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Full text of "Greatness of man"

UNIVERSITY 
OF FLORIDA 
LIBRARIES 




COLLEGE LIBRARY 



Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2012 with funding from 

LYRASIS Members and Sloan Foundation 



http://archive.org/details/greatnessofmanOOwest 



THE GREATNESS OF MAN 
AN ESSAY ON DOSTOYEVSKY AND WHITMAN 



THE 



GREATNESS 



AN ESSAY ON 

DOSTOYEVSKY 
and WHITMAN 



NEW YORK • THOMAS YOSELOFF • LONDON 



DFMAN 



BY 

PERRY D. 

WESTBROOK 




COPYRIGHT © 1961 BY A. S. BARNES AND COMPANY, INC. 
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOG CARD NUMBER: 61-6928 



thomas yoseloff, Publisher 
11 east 36th street 
new york 16, new york 



THOMAS YOSELOFF LTD. 
123 NEW BOND STREET 
LONDON W.l. ENGLAND 



PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 




/'• 



> 

^< TO ANNE, EMILY, AND PAUL 



3 



ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 

The author is grateful for permission to quote from the fol- 
lowing books still under copyright: 

WINTER NOTES ON SUMMER IMPRESSIONS, by 
Feodor Dostoyevsky, translated by R. L. Renfield, copyright 
1955 by Criterion Books, Inc. 

THE POEMS, PLAYS, AND PROSE OF A. PUSHKIN (for 
the Babette Deutsch translation of 'The Prophet"), edited by 
A. Yarmolinsky, copyright 1936 by Random House, Inc. 

DIARY OF A WRITER, by Feodor Dostoyevsky, translated 
by Boris Brasol, copyright 1949 by Charles Scribner's Sons. 

Thanks are also due to T. S. Eliot for permission to quote 
from his essay "Literature and the Modern World" (first pub- 
lished in AMERICAN PREFACES, June, 1 940), and to Dorothy 
Thompson for permission to quote from her article "The 
Russian Poet-Prophets," LADIES HOME JOURNAL, Janu- 
ary, 1959. 



PREFACE 



The ideas in this volume are the outgrowth of many years of 
teaching American and Russian literature in the New York 
State College for Teachers at Albany. I claim no special origi- 
nality for anything written here. The thoughts came first from 
the great writers discussed and secondly from the numerous pro- 
found commentaries on their works. It is doubtful if there is 
anything really original left to say about Dostoyevsky and 
Whitman. 

But in a sense ideas are always new, even if they were first 
thought of three thousand years ago. This is the newness of im- 
mediacy, of first impact on each generation of minds. Living 
ideas are always new, then, for their newness or staleness rests 
in the minds that receive them, not in themselves. 

The young men and women at the Albany college are su- 
perior persons morally, intellectually, physically, though they 
would vigorously deny this assertion. In addition, most of them 
are dedicated to their future profession. As teachers, their chief 
tools will be their minds with their stores of "cephalic knowl- 
edge," as Whitman calls it, and their personalities. They seri- 



THE GREATNESS OF MAN 



ously and effectively set about perfecting these two tools. As 
one of their teachers, I have seen, and experienced vicariously, 
the effects that these two literary giants of the world's two great 
powers have had on the minds and spirits of class after class of 
students passing through our college into a life of devoted and 
able teaching. 

I think, therefore, that we have in our classes an intensity and 
genuineness of interest rare in American colleges. These stu- 
dents know that the reading of great literature will make them 
better people and better teachers. More important, the instinc- 
tive love of the intelligent human being for ideas is not inhibited 
in them by any false and blase sense of sophistication. I am con- 
vinced that from discussions of books and ideas in groups of this 
sort — mainly small seminars of fewer than fifteen participants — 
something very valuable emerges. The books, if they are still 
potentially alive, find their life anew in the minds and in the 
talk of the readers. They once more exert an influence for good 
or for bad on the individual and the group, and through them 
their influence lives on into the future. 

An idea is alive just in so far as it affects thought and action. 
To be in a position to have any effect at all it must first be in- 
jected into human thinking both by the printed and by the 
spoken word. The quality of the minds that do the thinking will 
determine the vitality of the idea. I repeat, were it not for the 
quality of the minds in which over the years I have seen the 
thoughts and attitudes of Whitman and Dostoyevsky renew 
their lives, I would never have had the audacity to attempt a 
book of this type. Actually the book was in a sense partly written, 
the material assembled, in those classes — by the students and 
their teacher together. The experience has been marked by the 
spirit of youth, of adventure of the highest order, of an activity 
which, though a pleasure, is freighted with tremendous impor- 
tance, as is all activity of the young, even their play. If some small 



Preface 9 

hint of this immediacy, urgency, and profound exhilaration can 
be transferred to the reader of the pages that follow, I will be 
more than happy. 

The writers spotlighted here are Dostoyevsky and Whitman, 
two of the in tensest lights of world literature. Other authors 
could have been chosen in their places, and in fact many of these, 
like Tolstoy, Mann, Hawthorne, Pasternak, are discussed. Lit- 
erature is as broad as life, and when we admit one or two authors 
into our intellectual lives, multitudes of others will be throng- 
ing at the door and should not be excluded. But we can make 
their acquaintance better one at a time or in pairs, as here. 
Surely my choice of authors will be acceptable. The subject of 
all great thought, all great art and literature, is the greatness of 
man. Man attains true greatness in his mind and in his spirit. Art 
and literature are the records of man's pondering on his great- 
ness, marveling at it more rapturously than on even the sub- 
limest works of mere physical nature. In few other writers is this 
sense of wonder at man's destiny so intense as in Whitman and 
Dostoyevsky. 

Finally, I should like to express my gratitude to Dr. Vivian 
Hopkins of the New York State College for Teachers for many 
constructive suggestions concerning style and content; to my 
wife for typing the manuscript; and to the Research Foundation 
of the State University of New York for the grant of a summer 
fellowship in aid of my project. 



CONTENTS 

PREFACE 7 

I 

Two Authors: Two Lands 17 

II 

What Is Man? 33 

III 

Confession 58 

IV 

Penance and Forgiveness 74 

v 

Love 88 

VI 

Life 106 

VII 

The New Man 115 

VIII 

The New Society 138 

IX 

Conclusion 160 

Bibliographical Note 168 

Notes 169 



BUT ONE MAY WISH THE WORD ART TO MEAN AN 
ATTEMPT TO GIVE MEN A CONSCIOUSNESS 
OF THEIR OWN HIDDEN GREATNESS. 

ANDRE MALRAUX 



THE GREATNESS OF MAN 



I 



TWO AUTHORS: TWO LANDS 



Whitman is a Prince of Words and a gateway to America. 

J. V. Jenson 

The aim of the present work [The Spirit of Russia] is to furnish an under- 
standing of Russia from the inside through the instrumentality of Russian 
literature. What I write about Dostoyevski is the core of the undertaking. 

T. G. Masaryk 

In the nineteenth century, world power and culture centered 
in Europe. Flanking Europe were two continent-sprawling un- 
knowns: Russia and the United States. One was still a new 
country in a New World; the other was emerging with startling 
suddenness and vigor from a medieval sleep in which it had 
stagnated during Europe's Renaissance. Prophecies were al- 
ready abroad that one or both of these youthful giants would 
soon take over Europe's leadership. Most famous w r as De 
Tocqueville's, written in 1835: 

There are at the present time two great nations in the world, 
which started from different points, but seem to tend towards the 
same end. I allude to the Russians and die Americans. Both of 



18 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

them have grown up unnoticed; and while the attention of man- 
kind was directed elsewhere, they have suddenly placed themselves 
in the front rank among the nations, and the world learned their 
existence and their greatness at almost the same time. 

All other nations seem to have nearly reached their natural 
limits, and they have only to maintain their power; but both these 
are still in the act of growth. . . . These alone are proceeding with 
ease and celerity along a path to which no limit can be perceived. 
The American struggles against the obstacles that nature opposes 
to him; the adversaries of the Russian are men. The former combats 
the wilderness and savage life; the latter civilization with all its 
arms. The conquests of the American are therefore gained by the 
plowshare; those of the Russian by the sword. . . . The principal 
instrument of the former is freedom; of the latter, servitude. Their 
starting point is different and their courses are not the same; yet 
each of them seems marked out by the will of Heaven to sway the 
destinies of half the globe. 1 

De Tocqueville was right about the division of world influ- 
ence between Russia and the United States. He was wrong in 
some of the details. America, like Russia, was still a slave state. 
America did take up the sword in 1848 and 1898 to expand her 
territory, and in the Civil War the enemy was men, not nature. 
Nor did Russia rely solely on the sword. The settlement of 
Siberia constituted as much a fight against nature and savage 
life as did our expansion to the West. Servitude may have been 
the chief official weapon, as it still is; yet in the nineteenth cen- 
tury leaders of thought in Russia by no means subscribed to 
servitude as a weapon or an end in itself. The mission of Russia 
was to be a liberating one, as was that of the United States. But 
De Tocqueville was writing early in the century, too early to 
witness the full flowering of Russian spiritual and intellectual 
life. 

Both countries at that time were cultural colonies of Europe. 
Since the days of Peter the Great, Russia had looked to the West 



Two Authors: Two Lands 19 

for her civilization, even to the extent of adopting French as a 
second language — or as a first for people of station and learning. 
The United States, recently cut loose politically from England, 
still drew heavily on the Old World for her art, literature, sci- 
ence, and philosophy. Intellectuals from both nations flocked to 
Europe in search of education and aesthetic stimulation, and 
many became so enthralled with European civilization that they 
failed to return. In Russia as well as in the United States many 
an indignant patriot would rant about the need for severing 
European apron strings. 

This ranting was symptomatic. Deep in the heart of each na- 
tion stirred aspirations that were already resulting in national 
identities distinct from those of Europe, the cultural leader. 
Nations achieve their identities through the pursuit of what 
they conceive to be their historic missions. Such a concept of 
mission stems from a nation's image of itself — of its place in 
history and in relation to God and to other peoples. The image 
is formed first, and afterward the nation strives to shape itself to 
the image. The origin of the image is obscure, but most likely it 
is in the deepest recesses of the folk mind. Here the poets, the 
philosophers, discover it, refine it, interpret it, spiritualize it 
(as Whitman would say) and return it to the people. Poets and 
other artists are indeed, to use Samuel Johnson's phrase, the 
unseen legislators of mankind. Rome's image of herself as the 
great civilizer was perfected by Vergil many years before it was 
brought into reality under Marcus Aurelius. The image of 
France as the defender of the Christian faith found artistic ex- 
pression in the Song of Roland and underwent at least partial 
realization in the Crusades a century or so afterwards. Very likely 
we underestimate literature as a political and cultural force. In 
the history of almost every great nation there has been a poet 
who limned the image of that greatness long before its achieve- 
ment. 



20 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

To get a glimpse into the soul of a nation one must go to its 
writers, artists, and philosophers, especially those of reputation 
and influence within their nation. In mid-nineteenth-century 
Russia and America, literature was flowering as never before 
or since — a fact that in itself is indicative of spiritual vigor. To- 
day the reader of these literatures — and both are read through- 
out the world — may gain insights into the spiritual depths of 
these nations. There he will descry the image each nation is 
forming of itself. But if he is observant of present-day culture, he 
will be dismayed at how far short of these images each nation 
is after three generations. 

For the images were good. They were humane and spiritually 
exalted, although they contained hints of future weakness. 
Furthermore the images had striking basic similarities. The two 
future world powers seemed to share their aspirations — seemed 
headed into futures identically beneficent for mankind. The 
images are still alive, doubtless, embedded deep in the mass 
consciousness of the two peoples. The realities bear little re- 
semblance to the images, and there lies the tragedy. 

Today the two colossi face each other across two oceans. Their 
vast armaments are posed for annihilating blows each against 
each. Fear and hate are the basis for their precarious coexistence, 
and all the world shudders at what appears the well-nigh in- 
evitable eventuality. Never before did two nations so need to 
understand one another; never before were two so far apart in 
understanding. Yet the nineteenth-century images, so benign, so 
full of promise for mankind, underlie the national minds of 
each country. To all men of good will it is a duty to probe far 
down below the terrors and hates and reveal what is most funda- 
mental. 

The task of probing could be a difficult, though never a 
tedious one. A preliminary glimpse may be revealed by a read- 
ing of two supremely great and totally indigenous authors. In 



Two Authors: Two Lands 21 

the writing of Whitman, the American vision — the American 
image of man — is revealed in depth and breadth, in all its sur- 
face and inner characteristics. In exploring the potentialities of 
the human psyche as it might develop in America, Whitman was 
a leader in a group that included Hawthorne, Poe, and Melville, 
and, later, Henry James. In assessing the potential of man en 
masse and as a member of society, and in outlining the American 
image of man's future social life, Whitman stands alone among 
all Americans of any century. His insights into the individual 
soul and into the social life of man complement one another. 
Together they point to a destiny that the nineteenth century 
envisaged for America and all mankind. 

In Russia another author — one of the all-inclusive geniuses 
that appear only rarely — reveals also in depth and breadth the 
image of his country's future. In fact, in one single work, The 
Brothers Karamazov, Dostoyevsky presents his whole world out- 
look, all that was in his earlier works in addition to much that is 
new. Like Whitman's Leaves of Grass, it is one of the world's 
great summarizing books, containing as it does the fruits of a 
lifetime of thought and experience. So vast is the scope of this 
novel that it approaches being an epic of all humanity as well 
as of the Russian soul. When Dostoyevsky's vision of man and 
the world is brought into comparison with the vision of Whit- 
man, an unexpected but very real resemblance appears. This 
resemblance awaits recognition through the clouds of terror and 
hate that darken Russian-American relationships far more 
effectively than the police measures and information blackouts 
of the iron curtain that so impress modern statesmen. 

Whitman and Dostoyevsky were born on the eve of a new era 
— that of the industrialization of their countries and of huge, 
swarming cities that were products of the factories as surely as 
the cloth they spun or the iron they smelted. Both were writers 
of the city and the new humanity spawned within it. To be sure, 



22 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

Whitman, a true son of the people, was born in the idyllic coun- 
tryside near Huntington, Long Island. His parents were both 
farming people, with strong Quaker convictions which, with 
their emphasis on love and the Inner Light, were to be a life- 
long influence on Whitman. Though he roamed the countryside 
and the seashore in his boyhood and youth, his real roots were 
sunk in the city, Brooklyn, where his family moved in his early 
childhood. 

"Give me the splendid silent sun," Whitman wrote in one of 
his most lyrical poems and proceeded to celebrate the joys of the 
country. But in the second section of the same poem he does an 
about-face: 

Keep your splendid silent sun . . . 

Give me faces and streets — give me these phantoms incessant 

and endless along these trottoirs! 
Give me interminable eyes . . . 2 

Whitman always insisted that he was a poet of the cities — the 
vast phantom-filled cities of the dawning industrial era. In 
Washington, with its swirling transient populations of service 
men, politicians, the wounded and the dying, and always in 
Brooklyn and his beloved Manhattan, Whitman eddied with the 
crowd, keeping his identity as a human droplet at the same time 
that he merged in the ocean around him. He rode the Brooklyn 
ferries, hobnobbing with the pilots in the wheel-house, and sat 
side by side with the teamsters on the driver's seat of the New 
York omnibuses. He caroused in taverns with workmen and 
talked and drank in Bohemian restaurants with writers and 
artists. For Whitman was one of those who thrive on conversa- 
tion, listening as much as he talked, with all manner of men in 
all manner of places. And from this talk evolved his poetry and 
his thought. Dostoyevsky wrote that all over Russia young men 
were gathering in taverns and talking, talking of man and God 



Two Authors: Two Lands 23 

and the future of Russia. The same ferment was taking place in 
America. Everywhere there were new ideas, new vistas opening 
up, and men must talk about them, compare and develop their 
ideas. In the cities, the centers of the new civilization, the talk, 
the ideas were most fecund. 

Dostoyevsky, born in the Moscow charity hospital where his 
father was a resident physician, was not the man of the people 
that Whitman was. In fact, in the Siberian prison where he spent 
four years of his young manhood, Dostoyevsky made himself 
hated by insisting on his supposed rights as a nobleman. But like 
Whitman he was fascinated by the "phantoms," the "innumer- 
able eyes" of the city sidewalks, especially those of Petersburg, 
which he describes as an unreal city rising in the mists of the 
Neva marshes as if conjured there by a magician. A similar sense 
of unreality was present to Whitman also, even in his most 
exalted descriptions of New York. The bay, the ships, the build- 
ings at such moments were mere "appearances," a necessary 
film that enveloped the soul but lacked objective existence. 
Dostoyevsky and Whitman were the two great spiritualizers of 
the engulfing materiality of the nineteenth century. A sense of 
the unreality of the material world is a first step toward spiritu- 
alization — toward gaining, or regaining, the sense of the human 
soul as transcending and including all forms of earthly existence. 

To both Whitman and Dostoyevsky the depraved elements, 
the phantoms of evil in the crowds, were as significant as the 
healthy average. Whitman bluntly designated New York as one 
of the most crime-haunted cities in the world and in his poetry 
sings of the whore, the debauchee, the syphilitic. Dostoyevsky, 
scanning the swarming sidewalks, singles out the criminals, the 
lost souls — the reeling Marmeladovs, the homicidal Raskol- 
nikovs and Rogozhins with their burning, staring eyes. His de- 
scription of a London crowd at night near the Haymarket is 
Dantesque: 



24 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

Here one finds sparkling, expensive garments and rags, and ex- 
treme differences of age all at once. The drunken tramp elbows his 
way through this frightful crowd, and the titled and wealthy gentle- 
man mingles with it. One hears cursing, quarreling, shouting and 
the gentle supplicating whisper of a still timid beauty. And what 
beauties they sometimes are! 3 

Dostoyevsky and Whitman were insatiable observers of the 
urban life that teemed around them. Both from time to time in 
their lives were journalists and had the reporter's nose for the 
unusual and for the typical in the unusual. Dostoyevsky edited 
several periodicals in the 'fifties, and in the last decade of his 
life he published Diary of a Writer, a series of commentaries on 
life much in the style of a modern columnist. In these monthly 
essays Dostoyevsky wrote on a fantastic variety of subjects: no- 
torious criminal cases, suicides, literature, politics. All the ideas 
implicit in his novels, especially the later ones, were here devel- 
oped in relation to the passing scene of Russian life. The heroine 
of The Possessed , Lizaveta Nikolaevna, dreams of publishing 
yearly collections of news articles, anecdotes, and other material 
illustrative of Russian life. Dostoyevsky's Diary of a Writer is 
essentially just this sort of project, as are his novels, despite their 
fictional guise, for they all are based on characters Dostoyevsky 
has known (like Father Zossima in The Brothers Karamazov) or 
events of the day (like the brutal disciplinary murder of Shatov 
by the revolutionaries in The Possessed). 

Nor was the reporter in Whitman ever dormant. His method 
in all his poetry and prose is to use the specific instance, the 
event of the day, gathered from as wide an area as possible. In 
his actual newspaper days — confined to his young manhood — 
his editorials showed the same wide and eager interests as Dos- 
toyevsky's essays. Slavery, reforms, the westward expansion, 
books, religion were all among his subjects. A favorite and in- 
exhaustible topic for each was the future of his country, for 



Two Authors: Two Lands 25 

which each forecast a decisive and, of course, benign role in the 
betterment of the human lot. Pan-Slavism and Manifest Destiny 
were the crassest forms these aspirations took with Dostoyevsky 
and Whitman, and these two philosophies had in common the 
expansion of a civilization that their exponents felt eminently 
worth expanding. Neither Dostoyevsky nor Whitman was above 
rattling the saber. Dostoyevsky recommended the annexation 
of Constantinople and much of eastern Asia, and to Whitman 
the absorption of Canada and Latin America into the American 
republic was merely a matter of course. But in general their 
patriotism had more spiritual manifestations — the spreading of 
democracy for Whitman, and for Dostoyevsky the establishment 
of a world order based on universal Christian brotherhood. 
Their fervor was so strong they would have quarreled with De 
Tocqueville's prophecy that Russia and America would share 
the world between them. Each was convinced that spiritually, at 
least, his country would sway the entire world. "That star [of 
world brotherhood] will rise in the east," 4 asserts Father Zossima, 
who speaks many of Dostoyevsky's ideas. And to Whitman, dur- 
ing the Civil War in Washington, the evening star symbolized 
not only Lincoln but the whole vitalizing force of the people 
who had produced Lincoln — the Democracy that was to flourish 
first in "These States" and later embrace all mankind in its 
brotherly arms. 

Both Whitman and Dostoyevsky looked upon Europe as dead, 
a beautiful graveyard whose influence of decay was to be 
shunned. Russia to Dostoyevsky was a holy mother. Her earth 
was to be kissed and washed with one's joyful tears. To Whitman 
America was the world's "greatest poem." Each desired to fur- 
ther the future greatness of his country. To each the man of 
letters was a prophet, his calling the sacred one of showing his 
fellow countrymen "the pathway between reality and the soul." 
To preach the spiritual significance of the times and the destiny 



26 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

of the nation and the race was the poet's role, Whitman proudly 
announced in the Preface to the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass. 
Dostoyevsky, as he reached the end of his days, seemed actually 
to be the embodiment of the prophet described in Pushkin's 
great poem: 

Athirst in spirit, through the gloom 

Of an unpeopled waste I blundered, 

And saw a six-winged seraph loom 

Where the two pathways met and sundered. 

He laid his fingers on my eyes: 

His touch lay soft as slumber lies, — 

And like an eagle's, his crag shaken, 

Did my prophetic eyes awaken. 

Upon my ears his fingers fell 

And sound rose — stormy swell on swell: 

I heard the spheres revolving, chiming, 

The angels in their soaring sweep, 

The monsters moving in the deep, 

The green vine in the valley climbing. 

And from my mouth the seraph wrung 

Forth by its roots my sinful tongue; 

The evil things and vain it babbled 

His hand drew forth and so effaced, 

And the wise serpent's tongue he placed 

Between my lips with hand blood-dabbled; 

And with a sword he clove my breast, 

Plucked out the heart he made beat higher, 

And in my stricken bosom pressed 

Instead a coal of living fire. 

Upon the wastes, a lifeless clod, 

I lay, and heard the voice of God: 

"Arise, O prophet, watch and hearken, 

And with my Will thy soul engird, 

Roam the gray seas, the roads that darken, 

And burn men's hearts with this, my Word." 5 



Two Authors: Two Lands 27 

When Dostoyevsky recited this poem at a Pushkin celebration 
in Moscow in 1881, the wildly cheering audience was convinced 
that they saw an incarnation of the poet's vision. 

The prophet must see the evil as well as the good and beauti- 
ful; he must hear the rush of sea monsters under the waves as 
well as the flight of angels. Both Dostoyevsky and Whitman had 
a profound sense of the evil as being as intrinsic to the order of 
things as the good, and perhaps this perception grew from a sense 
of their own guilt. Dostoyevsky's deeply ingrained guilt has been 
analyzed by countless experts, including Freud himself. The 
consensus is that it stems from Dostoyevsky's subconscious wish 
for the death of his father, a miserly and sadistic drunkard, who 
was murdered by his peasants when Dostoyevsky was eighteen. 
Having wished for his father's death — much as did the older 
Karamazov brothers for theirs — the author's guilt was aggra- 
vated by the event itself and manifested itself in his lifelong 
suffering from epilepsy, whose comas resemble death. By peri- 
odically "dying" Dostoyevsky could atone for his father's death, 
for which he was unconsciously responsible. This need for self- 
punishment found other outlets as well — in frenzied gambling, 
and in attachments to women who humiliated and scorned him. 
Yet so great was his subconscious craving for punishment that he 
did his best writing when he was undergoing the acutest mental 
suffering — say, when he had literally gambled away his jacket 
and was without a penny in a foreign land with a wife and child 
to support. 

Whitman's guilt is no less evident and is equally a vitalizing 
force in his writing and thinking. Throughout his works he gives 
notice of his kinship with the degraded and the criminal: 

For me the keepers of convicts shoulder their carbines 

and keep watch, 
It is I let out in the morning and barr'd at night. 6 



28 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

Whitman's English friend, Edward Carpenter, whose life had 
been revolutionized by reading Leaves of Grass, reports that the 
poet confessed to him: "There is something in my nature fur- 
tive ... I think there are truths which it is necessary to envelope 
or wrap up." Carpenter sensed "a great tragic element in his 
nature — and [one which] possibly prevented him ever being 
what is called 'happy in love affairs.' " 7 That Whitman was an 
overt homosexual, as this passage suggests, has been almost con- 
clusively determined. His guilt might have been generated by 
this abnormality, or conceivably it might have had a totally dif- 
ferent source. 

Both Whitman and Dostoyevsky were keenly aware of human 
suffering both in themselves and in others, and the place of suf- 
fering in their lives is no less than that of guilt. Dostoyevsky 
personally endured the ultimate in physical hardship while im- 
prisoned in Siberia, not to mention such other lifelong afflictions 
as his epilepsy and compulsive gambling. Indeed most of Dosto- 
yevsky 's biographers express wonder that he was able to survive 
the Siberian ordeal at all. Whitman, aside from prolonged ill- 
ness in his later years, knew little personal physical suffering. 
But more important to each than physical pain was the place of 
pain as inevitable and perhaps ultimately beneficial in the 
scheme of human life. The central experience in the life of each 
was an intense exposure to human suffering. In the case of each 
this experience had the effect of releasing love in themselves and 
in others. Who can say whether the release could have occurred 
under other circumstances, or whether the suffering was neces- 
sary for spiritual growth? 

In the case of each author this contact with pain came at the 
height of his powers and lasted for four years — Dostoyevsky's in 
prison and Whitman's in his ministering to the wounded in the 
army hospitals in and around Washington. With each, these 
years of revelation began with a recognition of the true nature 



Two Authors: Two Lands 29 

of man in all his evil and all his goodness. To Dostoyevsky prison 
gave his first contact with the common people of the Russian 
Empire, Slav and non-Slav. As a "gentleman" he was despised by 
the prisoners of humble birth, whose resentment of him was 
only increased by his insistence on his class rights. Yet among 
the convicts he found combined with their criminality an un- 
suspected potential of love and selflessness. Here he first 
glimpsed the tremendous "breadth" of man — the capacity for 
a myriad of conflicting traits and impulses. Here also was 
brought home to him the tragedy of the "isolation" of the 
Russian intellectual like himself, the bottomless chasm that 
yawned between the people and the learned and professional 
classes who proposed to reform Russia for these very masses 
whose character and needs they understood no better than they 
did those of the Chinese. Though the Siberian years were replete 
with horror, Dostoyevsky dated from that time the growth of 
his faith not only in Christ but in the "God-bearing" Russian 
masses. 

Whitman's Civil War experience was not one of personal 
suffering. Indeed, it was one of intense spiritual fulfillment. In 
his ministrations to tens of thousands of wounded and dying 
soldiers he first learned of his own boundless capacity for love 
and of the magic curative effects of love on the sufferers. To his 
mother he writes, "I believe that no men ever loved each other 
as I and some of these sick and dying men have loved each other." 
And later he writes, "I never knew what American young men 
were till I have been in the hospitals." 8 Few will see in this love 
anything other than the spiritualized affection that Whitman's 
Quaker mother understood it to be. Whitman's activities in 
the hospitals were selfless in the highest Christian sense. In his 
friends' opinion he gave himself with such abandon that he laid 
during these years the groundwork of his later physical break- 
down. Nor was the experience entirely one of ecstatic love of 



30 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

his fellowmen. Like Dostoyevsky in the Siberian prison camp, 
Whitman saw the horror as well as the love in the human 
make-up. "Mother," he writes, "one's heart grows sick of war, 
after all, when you see what it really is; every once in a while I 

feel so horrified and disgusted It seems like a great slaughter 

house . . . ." 9 Never did Whitman close his eyes to the tragic role 
of evil in human affairs. To him man is "broad, too broad," to 
use the words of Dmitri Karamazov. 

In Siberia and in the Civil War hospitals Dostoyevsky and 
Whitman found confirmation of feelings and insights that had 
appeared in their earlier works. Chief among these was the re- 
discovery of the divinity or God-bearing capacity of man; or, as 
St. Paul puts it in a verse unquestionably familiar to both Whit- 
man and Dostoyevsky, "Know ye not that ye are a temple of God, 
and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in ye?" (I Cor. 2:16) That 
such faith could come from experiences with humanity at its 
worst, man animalized by war and brutal penal servitude, is a 
measure of the optimism of these two writers. Whitman, of 
course, has always had the reputation of being an optimist, more 
of an optimist than he actually was. But Dostoyevsky is popularly 
regarded as a "gloomy Russian." Yet Andre Gide found in him 
"an aptitude and propensity for happiness." The fact is that 
Dostoyevsky was not a black pessimist any more than Whitman 
was an unthinking Pollyanna who could see nothing but "good 
in mankind." Both were only too keenly aware of the existence 
of the contradictions of the human soul. Both had witnessed 
man's capacity, sometimes proclivity, to destroy himself. But 
both knew that if he would but will it, mankind could create the 
kingdom of heaven on earth. "Say not, lo here and lo there. The 
kingdom of heaven is within you." (Luke 17: 20-21) Man would 
eventually be redeemed by love, both thought. Paradise lies all 
around us. We need not wait till we die in order to live in it. 

The immense significance of these writers, then, lies not only 



Two Authors: Two Lands 31 

in the fact that they are representative of the profoundest aspira- 
tion of the peoples of the world's two most powerful nations — at 
least as those nations were on the eve of their greatness. It lies 
further in the basic similarity of their spirits and of the spirits, 
therefore, of the nations they so loved. The differences between 
Dostoyevsky and Whitman are obvious enough: one was a poet, 
the other a novelist; one was a devout Orthodox Christian, the 
other seldom lost an opportunity to berate organized religion; 
one saw in science one of the great hopes of mankind, the other 
feared science as the destroyer of the spiritual life; one cham- 
pioned an autocracy, the other was a vociferous democrat. But, 
more deeply, their thought — or, as they would have preferred to 
call it, their intuitions — was remarkably similar. Man, they felt 
— rather than reasoned — is a creature in the image of God, en- 
dowed with the freedom to determine his own destiny on earth 
and in eternity, whose chief redemptive faculty is love, but who 
carries within him a potential of hate that can easily destroy him 
and his civilization. In this fundamental conviction both au- 
thors were opposed to the most advanced thought of their time, 
which conceived of man as a biological, physiological, and eco- 
nomico-sociological machine, the life and destiny of which were 
governed by forces outside its control or power of choice — in 
short, man as conceived in the light of the "discoveries" of Marx, 
Darwin, and the biochemist Haeckel. Dostoyevsky and Whit- 
man both thought the intellectuals of their day were out of 
touch with the masses, were ignorant of their nature and needs, 
and were in error regarding mankind and history in general. 
Within the Christian era mankind has rejected fatalism — death, 
if you will — and the most important Christian theologians have 
allowed for at least some self-determination for individuals and 
for nations. This faith in man's ability to shape his own destiny, 
individual and social, is inextricably rooted in all peoples living 
in the Christian tradition. Dostoyevsky and Whitman, faced 



32 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

with the new fatalism of science, were simply reaffirming the old 
truths. They insisted that Christianized mankind, after eighteen 
hundred years of belief in man's status and dignity as an image 
of God, a self-determining creature endowed with a knowledge 
of good and evil, should not lose the sense of his greatness or 
permit himself to be diminished to the status of a machine or a 
laboratory test-tube. The function of literature is to teach the 
greatness of man, to paraphrase Malraux. Too many authors of 
the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have gloried in teaching 
the smallness and insignificance of man, till mankind has all but 
lost faith in itself. The writings of Dostoyevsky and Whitman are 
powerful antidotes to these misgivings. 

American and Russian literature "have gone to the verge," 
says D. H. Lawrence. That is, American and Russian literature 
have gone the limit in asserting what Emerson called "the infin- 
itude of the private man." And no other authors in either 
literature came closer to the verge in this respect than did Dos- 
toyevsky and Whitman. Says Stepan Trofimovitch in The Pos- 
sessed: "The infinite and eternal are as essential for man as the 
little planet on which he dwells" — a sentiment that could stand 
as the motto of Leaves of Grass as well as for all of Dostoyevsky's 
later work. 



II 



WHAT IS MAN? 



What sort of chimera then is man? What a novelty, what a monster, what 
a chaos, what a subject of contradiction, what a prodigy! Judge of all 
things, brainless earthworm, repository of truth, sewer of doubt and error, 
glory and trash of the universe. 

Pascal 

"I am large, I contain multitudes," 1 writes Whitman, speaking 
for all humanity. 

"Man is broad, too broad," 2 says Dmitri Karamazov in Dosto- 
yevsky's The Brothers Karamazov. "I would make him nar- 
rower." 

What do these authors mean by the "broadness," the largeness 
of man? The answer must be given in some detail, for it is im- 
portant in the work of both writers. To begin with, man was 
the sole interest of Dostoyevsky and Whitman. Nature in Dosto- 
yevsky is always incidental. It may be a dark plain over which the 
desperate Dmitri drives behind a troika at night. Or it may be 
a starlit evening, mellow with the breath of late summer, in 
which the ecstatic Alyosha kisses the earth as a pledge of his 
devotion to life. However it may appear, nature in Dostoyevsky 
is always a projection of the mood of a human being. His nature 



34 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

descriptions are always determined by what the British novelist, 
J. C. Powys, calls "elemental empathy," which is a device of 
blending the moods of nature with those of men. Dostoyevsky 
achieves powerful dramatic effects in this way. But descriptions 
of fields and woods and sky for their own sake, as in Tolstoy, are 
absent from his pages. Even in his magnificent description of 
an Alpine lake in The Possessed, the picture is presented as seen 
by the crippled but "holy" idiot Marya, to whom subconsciously 
the shadow of a mountain cutting across an island represents 
the cross casting its blessing upon the redeemed earth. Nature 
in Dostoyevsky is relevant only in its spiritual significance to 
characters. 

Likewise in Whitman's "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rock- 
ing" a summer night on Long Island, with the wasted moon 
sagging in the east and a mocking bird singing its elegy to its 
dead mate, has significance, not in itself, but because it marks 
the wakening of a boy to the beauty of death as deliveress of the 
soul. Again, in "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd" 
the heart-shaped leaves become identified with the people's love 
of the murdered Lincoln, and the song of the hermit thrush 
blends with the poet's own song in praise of "lovely and soothing 
death." Even a description of a tree in "I Saw in Louisiana a 
Live-Oak Growing" progresses only three lines before the poet 
says, "Its look, rude, unbending, lusty made me think of my- 
self," for it makes him wonder "how it could utter joyous leaves 
standing alone there without its friend near, for I know I could 
not." 3 

Like Emerson, Whitman regards nature as existing for the 
purpose of ministering to the soul of man. In "Crossing Brook- 
lyn Ferry" he writes of the material world that enfolds him: 

You have waited, you always wait, you dumb, beautiful ministers, 
We receive you with free sense at last, and are insatiate hence- 
forward, 



What Is Man? 35 

Not you any more shall be able to foil us, or withhold yourselves 

from us, 
We use you, and do not cast you aside — we plant you permanently 

within us, 
We fathom you not — we love you — there is perfection in you also, 
You furnish your parts toward eternity, 
Great or small, you furnish your parts toward the soul. 4 

Father Zossima in The Brothers Karamazov expresses the 
same conviction of the spiritual meaning of the material world 
in all its variety: 

God took seeds from different worlds and sowed them on this 
earth and cultivated his garden, and everything came up that could, 
but what grows lives and is alive only through the feeling of its 
contiguity with other mysterious worlds. If that feeling becomes 
weak or is destroyed in you, then what has grown up in you will 
die. Then you will become indifferent to life and even come to hate 
it.5 

In Raw Youth the meek and saintly peasant pilgrim, Makar 
Ivanovich, says to his wife's son, who was born of a union with 
Makar's master: "Everything is mystery, dear; in all is God's 
mystery. In every tree, in every blade of grass that same mystery 
lies hid," 6 which corresponds to Whitman's "all truth waits in 
all things," or "I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey- 
work of the stars." 7 

The universe is man-centered for Whitman and Dostoyevsky. 
To them man is still a microcosm, as he was to the medieval 
mystic. The standard nineteenth-century science-derived con- 
cept of man as a speck of dust on another speck of dust rotating 
in a limitless cloud of dust, which is the stellar universe, was 
unacceptable to these two writers. Man might be a speck of dust, 
but it was divine dust, and nothing, not even a blade of grass, 



36 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

was insignificant. The curious cult of human insignificance, 
which arose with the breakdown of Christianity, is of course 
flourishing today. Yet there are signs of its losing the full sway 
that it enjoyed through the 1920's. The truth is that man, even 
when he most strongly asserts his insignificance, doesn't really 
believe in it. Man, after all, is the center of the universe as he 
knows it, and it is only as he knows it that it can possibly exist 
for him. Hence the tenacious hold of religion and of writers like 
Dostoyevsky and Whitman on the hearts of mankind, even when 
their minds deny. 

Man is broad, large, existing at the very center of creation 
and encompassing all the spiritual and material world. Man is 
exempt from restrictions. "In all things I go to extremes," says 
Dostoyevsky, and Whitman glories: 

Magnifying and applying come I, 

Outbidding at the start the old cautious hucksters. . . . 8 

Dostoyevsky's chief exhibit of the "broadness," the "all-inclu- 
siveness" of man is Dmitri Karamazov, one of his most sympa- 
thetic characters and one of the most fascinating in all literature. 
His life and spiritual development are worth looking at in 
detail. Dmitri is first presented as a ruffian and a drunken liber- 
tine, engaged to a girl of good background from whom he has 
stolen 1500 roubles to squander on the courtesan Grushenka. 
Dmitri's father, too, is in pursuit of Grushenka, and the rivalry 
between father and son is murderous. When we next meet 
Dmitri he is spying on his father from the grounds of an adjacent 
house. He has been drinking brandy, and as his brother Alyosha 
approaches him he is shouting snatches of verse: 

Glory be to the Highest in heaven. 
Glory be to the Highest in me. 9 



What Is Man? 37 

This is the keynote of Dmitri's discordant character — drunken- 
ness, sexual rivalry with his father over a trollop, and song for 
the Heavenly God who also finds a dwelling in him. From sacred 
poetry Dmitri passes on to Schiller, quoting at length from a 
poem describing Ceres' return to earth only to find man sunk in 
"vilest degradation." Dmitri himself, he assures his brother, is in 
just such a state of degradation. 

The poem goes on to state that man may redeem himself by 
clinging "forever to his ancient Mother Earth." 

"But," cries Dmitri, "the difficulty is how am I to cling forever 
to Mother Earth. I don't kiss her. I don't rend open her bosom. 
... I go on and I don't know whether I am going to shame or to 
light and joy. That's the trouble, for everything in the world is a 
riddle. And whenever I've happened to sink into the vilest de- 
gradation (and it's always been happening) I always read that 
poem about Ceres and man. Has it reformed me? Never! For 
I'm a Karamazov [the equivalent of saying he's a human being]. 
For when I do leap into the pit, I go headlong with my heels up, 
and am pleased to be falling in that degrading attitude and pride 
myself on it. And in the depths of this degradation I begin a 
hymn of praise. Let me be accursed. Let me be vile and base, 
only let me kiss the hem of the veil in which my God is shrouded. 
Though I may be following the devil, I am thy son, O Lord, and 
I love Thee, and I feel the joy without which the world cannot 
stand." 10 

"Men are made for happiness," Father Zossima says, "and any- 
one who is completely happy has a right to say 'I am doing God's 
will on earth.' " 11 The drunken Dmitri senses this truth when he 
speaks of "the joy without which the world cannot stand." Im- 
mediately afterward he recites several stanzas from another poem 
of Schiller's, the famous "Ode to Joy." Dmitri ends with the 
lines: 



38 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

To angels — visions of God's throne, 
To insects — sensual lust. 

Dmitri, of course, designates himself an insect who finds joy in 
sensual lust and beauty in Sodom. "Beauty," he cries, "I can't 
endure the thought that a man of lofty mind and heart begins 
with the ideal of the Madonna and ends with the ideal of Sodom. 
What's still more awful is that a man with the ideal of Sodom in 
his soul does not renounce the ideal of the Madonna .... Yes, 

man is broad The awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as 

well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there and the 
battlefield is the heart of man." 12 

Dmitri continues his chase of Grushenka. He almost murders 
his father's servant Grigory in an attempt to rob his father. He 
rushes away to a nearby town, where he stages a wild orgy. In the 
middle of the night the police arrive and accuse him of the 
murder of his father, who has been found with his skull bashed 
in. Dmitri is put through a terrible ordeal of questioning and 
cross-questioning, and is stripped of his clothing — which sym- 
bolizes being stripped of his self-respect. Reduced to humilia- 
tion and despair, he is spiritually reborn — in a dream, for real 
change is fundamental, having its origin deep in the subcon- 
scious. In his dream he sees a burned-out peasant village on the 
steppes where the snow is falling. The people are standing in the 
street, starving. At the milkless breast of one of the women is a 
wizened babe whose suffering rends Dmitri's heart. From this 
dream of suffering Dmitri awakes filled with the love of God and 
humanity. He publicly admits his sin and announces that he is 
ready to go to the mines where from deep underground he will 
sing hymns of praise and joy to God. He refuses to cooperate 
with the alienist produced by his fiancee in the hope of getting 
him acquitted on grounds of insanity. Dmitri is not a determin- 
ist. He accepts personal responsibility for his actions, and will 



What Is Man? 39 

take refuge behind no well-meaning diminishment of his human 
capacity for freedom of choice. In his misfortune and suffering 
he has found within himself a new man of full human stature. 
"He was hidden in me," Dmitri asserts, "he would never have 
come to the surface, if it hadn't been for this blow from heaven." 
Thus a monster of selfishness, who had harbored patricide in 
his heart, now declares that he goes to prison "for all, because 
some one must go for all. I didn't kill Father, but I've got to go. 
I accept it. . . . Oh, yes, we shall be in chains and there will be 
no freedom, but then, in our great sorrow, we shall rise again to 
joy, without which man cannot live nor God exist, for God gives 
joy: it's his privilege — a grand one. Ah, man should be dissolved 
in prayer." 13 

/ To Dostoyevsky, and to his readers everywhere, the Kara- 
mazovs are deputies for the human race. In the four brothers are 
represented basic human faculties: intellectuality in Ivan; sen- 
suality in Dmitri; criminality in Smerdyakov; spirituality in 
Alyosha. But each brother also contains in a lesser degree the 
traits of the others — and a fifth trait, the brute strength, the te- 
nacity to life, of the Karamazovs or the human species. In Ivan's 
words, "It's a feature of the Karamazovs it's true, that thirst for 
life regardless of anything. You have it, no doubt," he says to 
Alyosha, "but why is it base? The centripetal force on our planet 
is still fearfully strong, Alyosha." 14 And later Ivan says; "There 

is strength to endure everything The strength of the Karama- 

zov — the strength of the Karamazov baseness." 15 This "Karama- 
zov baseness" or "strength" is roughly the equivalent of the 
Freudian libido, and like the libido its foundations are deep in 
the subconscious. Yet to Dostoyevsky and to Whitman man's 
unconscious resources do not consist entirely of atavistic urges, 
as Freud would teach. The Godlike, as we have seen in Dmitri's 
dream, also lies in the subconscious, side by side with the bestial, 
and may break through just as decisively as the bestial. If, as 



40 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

Freud believes, the dream is the gateway to the subconscious, 
then Dmitri's dream of love and compassion reveals something 
as basic in man as the sex drive or the lust for power. 

Dmitri is the most Karamazov of the Karamazovs in his inner 
chaos of sensuality, spirituality, criminality, and intellectuality 
(Dmitri, in addition to being well acquainted with literature, 
is a forceful logician) as well as in the Karamazov lust for life that 
drives him mercilessly along whatever tangent he happens to be 
on. In him the "broadness of man" is more impressively exempli- 
fied than in any other Dostoyevskian character. J 

The equivalent of Dmitri in Whitman's works is the "I" of 
such poems as "Song of Myself." Whitman himself, in his lust for 
life, might facetiously be compared to Dmitri. But the "I" in 
these poems is not solely Whitman personally; it is frequently all 
humanity as represented by the bard-prophet in Whitman. And 
this "I" has a Karamazov breadth. 

In all people I see myself, none more and not one a barleycorn less, 
And the good or bad I say of myself I say of them. 16 

"Song of Myself," Whitman's longest poem, is his most detailed 
vision of humanity, as The Brothers Karamazov is Dostoyevsky's. 
In the poem humanity itself speaks in the first person, revealing 
itself in its multiplicity and contradictions, and it is essentially 
the same humanity that emerges from Dostoyevsky's novels — 
the same embodiment of infinitely varied gradations of good and 
evil, beauty and ugliness. 

What is commonest, cheapest, nearest, easiest is Me. 17 

I am of old and young, of the foolish as much as the wise. 18 

This is the meal equally set, this the meat for natural hunger, 
It is for the wicked just the same as the righteous, I make appoint- 
ments with all, 



What Is Man? 41 

I will not have a single person slighted or left away, 
The kept woman, sponger, thief, are hereby invited, 
The heavy-lipp'd slave is invited, the venerealee is invited. 19 

I am the poet of the Body and I am the poet of the Soul. 

The pleasures of heaven are with me and the pains of hell are with 



me. 



20 



I am not the poet of goodness only, I do not decline to be the poet 

of wickedness also. 
What blurt is this about virtue and about vice? 21 

There are more than generalizations in "Song of Myself." The 
"I" — whether it be Whitman or the voice of humanity — speaks 
for a vast list of specific persons: the suicide who "sprawls on the 
bloody floor of the bedroom;" the runaway slave "limpsy and 
weak;" the pure contralto singing in the organ loft; four hun- 
dred young men massacred in Texas; the sailors who fought in 
the battle between the Serapis and the Bon Homme Richard. 
Scenes of slaughter are described with a realism, a sense of horror 
similar to those by any "realistic" writer of modern times. 

Formless stacks of bodies and bodies by themselves, dabs of flesh 

upon the masts and spars. . . . 
The hiss of the surgeon's knife, the gnawing teeth of his saw, 
Wheeze, cluck, swash of falling blood, short wild scream, and long, 

dull, tapering groan, 
These so, these irretrievable. 22 

Next to these "hell scenes," as he calls similar scenes in the Civil 
War, are such tender idyllic vignettes as these: 

The little one sleeps in its cradle, 

I lift the gauze and look a long time, and silently brush away flies 
with my hand. 



42 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

The youngster and the red-faced girl turn aside up the bushy hill, 
I peeringly view them from the top. 23 

Or outbursts of sheer fun: 

The big doors of the country barn stand open and ready. . . . 

I am there, I help, I came stretched atop the load, 

I felt its soft jolts, one leg reclined on the other, 

I jump from the crossbeams and seize the clover and timothy, 

And roll head over heels and tangle my hair full of wisps. 24 

Murderous, tender, playful — this is man as Whitman and Dos- 
toyevsky envision him: a chaos of contradictions, a cosmos of 
conflicting passions. 

Man then is a being charged with an enormous potential for 
good and for evil. Further, he is endowed with freedom of choice 
between good and evil, and this is his most awesome, his most 
human attribute — one which Immanuel Kant compared in 
wonder with the "starry heavens" above him. Man may choose to 
make a paradise of life here and now. "In one day, in one hour, 
everything could be arranged at once!" cries Dostoyevsky. 25 But 
man's freedom of choice has degenerated into sheer perversity. 
Just to assert his will man sometimes intentionally injures, 
humiliates himself, as does old Karamazov in his buffoonery or 
the hero of Nates from Underground, who at every turn does 
exactly the thing best calculated to hurt himself and lower his 
self-esteem. "The laws of self-preservation and of self-destruction 
are equally powerful in this world," 26 says a character in The 
Idiot. And in Notes from Underground the "hero" cites the 
appalling record of history's wars to illustrate the zest with which 
man wills his own destruction. In Whitman, war with its hideous 
suffering looms awesomely as one of the inexplicable realities of 
the human lot. 



What Is Man? 43 

Both Dostoyevsky and Whitman reject any teaching or in- 
fluence that detracts from man's freedom of choice, even if that 
freedom is, as often as not, exercised harmfully; even if by wrong 
use of his freedom man may lose it. Man must be free to abrogate 
his freedom, to enslave himself to others or to his own passions. 
Each author emphasizes the extreme difficulty of the right use 
of this divine gift of freedom. Neither advocates or tolerates 
sheer license or any such flabby concept as "self-expression" or 
"doing what you think is right." Freedom demands a deliberate 
choice of a rule of life, both moral and intellectual. This is the 
meaning of Dostoyevsky's "Grand Inquisitor" chapter in The 
Brothers Karamazov. Ivan Karamazov rebels against a universe 
in which God permits suffering, ' especially the suffering of 
children. In his "poem" of the Grand Inquisitor, Ivan traces 
back the flaw in the moral order to Christ's rejection of the 
three temptations of the devil in the desert: the temptations of 
turning stones to bread, of leaping from the temple, and of 
ruling the nations of the world with the sword of Caesar. Had 
Jesus succumbed to these temptations of the devil he would 
have freed mankind not only from hunger, but from doubt and 
from bloodshed. By miracle and mystery He would have so im- 
pressed man that man would never have questioned His divin- 
ity. By unifying the nations of the world by the sword He would 
have eradicated war. The planet would have been inhabited 
by "millions of happy babes," free of worry, free of fear, free 
of hunger. And yet Jesus rejected these opportunities. He de- 
manded a loyalty freely given, not extorted by miracle, mystery, 
and power. 

And now in Ivan's poem a dignitary of the Spanish Inquisi- 
tion is upbraiding Jesus, who has returned to earth and been 
immediately thrown into prison. "Thou didst desire man's 
free love, that he should follow Thee freely, enticed and taken 
captive by Thee. In place of the rigid ancient law, man must 



44 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

hereafter with free heart decide for himself what is good and 
what is evil. . . . But didst Thou not know he would at last reject 
Thy image and Thy truth, if he is weighed down with the fear- 
ful burden of free choice?" 27 The Inquisitor — the spokesman of 
a religion that Dostoyevsky feels deprives man of his freedom — 
has given man what in his weakness he craves: "someone to 
worship, someone to keep his conscience, and some means of 
uniting all in one unanimous . . . ant-heap. . . ." 28 To Dostoyev- 
sky, as to Pasternak more recently, the significance of Christ 
was in His placing full moral responsibility upon the individual 
rather than on the State or any other organization. Insofar as 
the Roman Catholic Church took unto itself the individual's 
responsibility of free choice, it was to Dostoyevsky anti-Christian. 
The great strength of the Eastern Church, he felt, lay in its 
preservation of this basic freedom. However, prejudiced though 
he undoubtedly was, it is an error to take "The Grand Inquis- 
itor" chapter as an anti-Catholic diatribe. Dostoyevsky himself 
emphasized that in this chapter he was speaking directly to the 
political reformers, the builders of modern towers of Babel, 
that is, socialistic and other sociopolitical short cuts to heaven 
which deprive man of his freedom of choice between good and 
evil. Stripped of this choice, man, according to Dostoyevsky, 
loses his dignity. "Do you despise or respect mankind, you, its 
coming saviours?" 29 asks Dostoyevsky of the reformers of his 
day. 

No one would accuse Dostoyevsky of confusing license with 
freedom. But Whitman has often been accused of just this 
weakness. Yet Whitman was as far as Dostoyevsky from advocat- 
ing an irresponsible freedom. Emerson, when subjected to a 
similar accusation by people who had misunderstood his essay 
"Self-Reliance," answered, "Try it for a day," implying how 
difficult was this kind of freedom, which places the full burden 
of choice on the individual. He was sorry, he said, that he hadn't 



What Is Man? 45 

entitled the essay "God-Reliance," for what he advocated was 
not guidance by whim but by God — the best within us — un- 
shackled by any organization or convention or creed imposed 
from without. Whitman, an admirer of Emerson, was of like 
mind. Man must free himself from all rigorous, prefabricated 
codes of belief and conduct. More extreme than Dostoyevsky, 
he rejected all organized religions, not just one, as restricting 
the scope of individual self-determination. But Whitman did 
not reject Christ, whose mission on earth he conceived of as 
the teaching of the transcendency of the individual soul. He 
would have concurred eagerly with Dostoyevsky's conviction 
that "Christ walked on earth to show mankind that even in its 
earthly nature the human spirit can manifest itself in heavenly 
radiance, in the flesh, and not merely in a dream or ideal — and 
that this is both natural and possible." 30 

The human soul, whose absoluteness and immortality was 
established by Christ, can survive only in freedom. The Grand 
Inquisitor's millions of happy babes "will peacefully expire and 
beyond the grave they will find nothing but death" 31 because 
when freedom was killed in them their souls too withered and 
died. But it must be real freedom, "freedom," in Whitman's 
words, "from the painful constipation and poor narrowness of 
ecclesiasticism . . . freedom from party rings and mere conven- 
tions in Politics — and better than all, a general freedom of 
One's-Self from tyrannic vices, habits, appetites, under which 
every man of us, (often the greatest brawler for freedom) is 
enslaved." 32 (Here we are reminded of the social revolutionary 
in Dostoyevsky who almost betrayed his cause for a bribe of 
cigarettes.) Yet freedom is more than just the striking off of 
these shackles, about the release from which Dostoyevsky and 
Whitman would agree. To both it is more importantly a volun- 
tary submission to law. In words that Dostoyevsky would un- 
questionably approve, Whitman writes "While we are from 



46 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

birth to death the subjects of irresistible law, enclosing every 
movement and minute, we yet escape, by a paradox, into true 
free-will. Strange as it may seem, we only attain to freedom by a 
knowledge of, and implicit obedience to, Law. Great — unspeak- 
ably great — is the Will! the free Soul of man! At its greatest, 
understanding and obeying the laws, it can then, and then only, 
maintain true liberty. For there is to the highest, that law as ab- 
solute as any — more absolute than any — the Law of Liberty. 
["Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made 
us free." (Gal. 5:2)] The shallow . . . consider liberty a release 
from all law, from every restraint. The wise see in it, on the con- 
trary, the potent Law of Laws, namely the fusion and combina- 
tion of the conscious will, or partial individual law, with those 
universal, eternal, unconscious ones, which run through all 
Time, pervade history, prove immortality, give moral purpose to 
the entire objective world, and the last dignity to human life." 33 
"Truly ... all things are good and splendid, because all is 
truth . . . ," 34 says Father Zossima. They are the words of the 
mystic that lives in the core not only of Dostoyevsky's being, 
but also of Whitman's, for they express the basic mystical experi- 
ence, the sense of harmony and unity that transcends even the 
keenest awareness of evil. Both Dostoyevsky and Whitman 
believed in the reality of what Father Zossima called "contacts 
with other worlds," that is, with the Divine. Each may be classed 
as a mystic; each had experienced the mystical transport or 
ecstasy. In several of his novels — notably The Idiot and The 
Possessed — Dostoyevsky describes what were undoubtedly his 
own epileptic seizures. The preliminary to these seizures was a 
brief period of rapture, "when you suddenly feel the presence of 
the eternal harmony perfectly attained." 35 So blissful is the 
experience that the soul can endure only five seconds of it, and 
those five seconds alone are worth the whole of life. Nor does it 
matter that it is the symptom of a disease; the experience is 



What Is Man? 47 

nonetheless real. Of course, Dostoyevsky doesn't limit the mys- 
tical state solely to the diseased. Completely healthy characters 
in his novels also enter into it. The pilgrim Makar Ivanovitch in 
Raw Youth is a mystic. So also are Father Zossima and his brother 
Markel. Alyosha in The Brothers Karamazov walks out into 
the night from the room where the body of his beloved elder 
lies: "The silence of the earth seemed to melt into the silence 
of the heavens. . . . Oh! in his rapture he was weeping even over 
those stars, which were shining to him from the abyss, and 'he 
was not ashamed of his ecstasy.' It was as though threads from 
all those innumerable worlds of God met all at once in his 
soul...." 36 

This is traditional mysticism — the transport, the feeling of 
unity with the whole order of things. It is exactly paralleled by 
numerous passages in Whitman's poetry and prose. The feeling 
of identity: "miracle of miracles, beyond statement, most spir- 
itual and vaguest of earth's dreams, yet hardest basic fact, and 
only entrance to all facts" 37 — described in Democratic Vistas 
and held to be the foundation of all true religion — is bona fide 
mysticism. In Leaves of Grass such poems as "Crossing Brooklyn 
Ferry," "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking," and "When 
Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd" are prolonged mystical 
utterances. "Song of Myself" contains several expressions of 
mystical union with the earth in the same spirit as that of the 
passage in which Alyosha falls upon the ground and waters it 
with his tears: 

Press close bare-bosom'd night — press close magnetic nourishing 

night! 
Night of south winds — night of the few large stars! 
Still nodding night — mad naked summer night. 

Smile O voluptuous cool-breath'd earth! 
Earth of the slumbering and liquid trees! 38 



48 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

There are sexual overtones perhaps (common enough in mystic 
writing) in Whitman's passage that are absent from Dostoyev- 
sky 's, but the result is the same: contact with "other worlds" or 
with the Divine. Contact between the body and the earth is 
standard mystical symbolism for this union of the soul with 
God. To Whitman the symbolism was habitually enacted in 
his daily life, for he loved to lie on the grass or the sand of a 
beach for hours on end, letting his thoughts and moods wander 
where they would. In "Song of Myself" he urges his soul, 

Loaf with me on the grass, loose the stop from your throat, 

Not words, not music or rhyme I want, not custom or lecture, not 

even the best, 
Only the lull I like, the hum of your valved voice. 39 

Dostoyevsky certainly was not given to loafing on the grass, 
but he was strongly influenced by a philosophical group called 
the Pochvenniki (pochva means soil, ground) who advocated a 
return to the soil, the people, the foundation of things, as a means 
of revitalizing the mind and heart. The idea is beautifully and 
delicately expressed in the parable-like story, "The Peasant 
Marei," in which Dostoyevsky describes a childhood experience 
of being scared by an imaginary wolf. One of his father's serfs, 
Marei, had made the sign of the Cross over him and tenderly 
touched his lips with his earth-soiled finger to soothe his fright. 
During his terrible years in Siberia the memory returned to 
Dostoyevsky like a benediction and restored to him his love of 
the people and his love of life. 

To Dostoyevsky and Whitman, the seeds of spiritual maturing 
are sown far back in childhood. The life of the soul is organic, 
unified. What comes to it in adulthood like a revelation has 
had its inception at the beginning of its growth, though these 
seeds may lie dormant for decades. "Some good sacred memory, 
preserved from childhood," says Alyosha, "is perhaps the best 



What Is Man? 49 

education. If a man carries many such memories with him into 
life, he is saved to the end of his days. . . ." 40 Similarly, Whitman 
in "There Was a Child Went Forth" traces the seed time of his 
life, and in "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking" he isolates 
the one moment in his childhood when he experienced spiritual 
awakening. Leaving his bedroom late at night, night after night, 
the boy walks down to the seashore to observe two nesting 
mockingbirds. One night there was only one bird there, plain- 
tively mourning the death of its mate. Whitman says, "My own 
songs awakened from that hour," though actually he wrote no 
verse till twenty years later. 

In the nineteenth century most intellectuals outside the clergy 
had rejected the idea of the immortality of the human soul. If 
man was a machine and hence without a soul — as such diversified 
thinkers as Huxley and Mark Twain believed — then like a 
machine he would vanish, disintegrate into his constituent 
molecules. In contrast Dostoyevsky and Whitman strongly up- 
held the Judaeo-Christian doctrine of the soul and its immortal- 
ity. To Dostoyevsky man without immortality is a meaningless 
joke. Life in such a scheme loses purpose; the moral law is 
nullified. In Ivan Karamazov's famous phrase, "everything 
would be lawful" 41 without immortality. Crime would become 
the rational way of life; one reptile would devour another. Man 
would set himself up as a god, a man-god — and would proceed 
to live according to the law of the jungle. This, Dostoyevsky 
rejects. "In all is God's mystery," says Makar Ivanovitch in Raw 
Youth , "and the greatest mystery of all is what awaiteth the soul 
of man in the world to come." 42 But that something — not noth- 
ingness — awaits us, Dostoyevsky staunchly maintains through- 
out his later writings. 

Whitman had more definite ideas concerning death and the 
immortality of the soul than did Dostoyevsky. To him "lovely 
and soothing death" is the great spiritualizer, "the deliveress of 



50 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

the soul" from the "excrementitious body." Death, he assures 
us, is not what we think it is, that is, annihilation. 

What do you think has become of the young and old men? 
And what do you think has become of the women and children? 

They are alive and well somewhere, 

The smallest sprout shows there is really no death. . . . 

Has any one supposed it lucky to be born? 

I hasten to inform him or her it is just as lucky to die, and I know 
it. 43 

Death is one of the insistent facts of nature to be accepted joy- 
ously. To the boy Whitman, being first awakened on the Long 
Island beach to the transcendent meanings of life, the sea 
whispered only the one word: "Death, death, death, death, 
death." And it is that word, the earliest of the poet's insights, 
that aroused in the child 

the fire, the sweet hell within 
The unknown want, the destiny of me. 44 

Yet neither author was without moments of devastating 
doubt. In one of his letters Dostoyevsky writes: "I tell you . . . 
I am a child of the age, a child of unfaith and doubt now and (I 
know it) shall remain so. . . . What terrible torture has the thirst 

to believe cost me and still costs me However, God sometimes 

sends me moments in which I am entirely serene; in these 
moments I love and find I am loved by others, and in such 
moments I have formed a credo in which everything is clear 
and holy for me." 45 Paul Tillich asserts that faith without doubt 
is an impossibility, just as good is impossible without the exist- 
ence of evil. Faith in, and doubt of, God are not two opposed con- 



What Is Man? 51 

cepts but are two coexisting worlds of the spirit. The act of faith 
preserves one's faith in God in the face of inscrutable calamity 
and injustice, as was the case with Job. This act of faith gains its 
merit from the temptation, the reasons not to believe, and 
when so achieved makes God rejoice in his major creation, man. 
These moods of doubt in Whitman were frequent and pro- 
found — a fact overlooked by those who subscribe to the myth of 
the Good Gray Poet. In "Prayer of Columbus," written by Whit- 
man after his stroke, he sees a resemblance between the ex- 
plorer's last days and his own. 

A batter'd, wreck'd old man, 

Thrown on this savage shore far, far from home, 46 

he questions the meaning of his whole life. Has he uttered a 
prophet's thoughts or has he been raving? What, after all, does 
he know of life or of himself? Perhaps his life's work, past and 
present, is nothing but a mockery. Yet he will cling fast to God, 
though his "hands and limbs grow nerveless" and his "brain 
feels rack'd, bewilder'd." These utterances of doubt Whitman 
placed in Leaves of Grass as integral to his own spiritual biog- 
raphy and to the spiritual life of mankind in general. In such 
moods he is experiencing the spiritual "dryness" known to all 
mystics. These "downcast hours," as he calls them, press upon 
him like blankets of lead, the earth becomes a "chamber of 
mourning," and he hears 

the o'erweening, mocking voice, 
Matter is conqueror — matter triumphant only, continues onward. 47 

"The devil will hold his empire over humanity." 48 says Dosto- 
yevsky in The Idiot and in his writings in general; and in Whit- 
man's work the devil enjoys a role rare for him in die rational 



52 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

nineteenth century. The devil in both writers is the doubter, the 
denier, the rebel in each human soul. In The Brothers Karama- 
zov, where the devil appears as an hallucination to Ivan on the 
brink of insanity, he embodies all that is "nasty" in Ivan's think- 
ing, which is the thinking of the intelligentsia of Russia. All of 
Ivan's mocking, negating, compromising ideas the devil feeds 
back to him, much to Ivan's disgust. The devil is here the 
intellect, proud, shallow (in comparison with intuition and feel- 
ing) which rejects God and immortality and sets up man as 
supreme in the universe. He is a shabby fellow — a threadbare 
Russian landowner with a generous coating of European culture 
and several blueprints for reform. His function is to tempt the 
intellect through pride, to stray. Yet Dostoyevsky would have us 
believe that his existence is necessary. If the devil exists, God 
must exist; good and evil are necessary for each other's existence. 
Whitman also finds a major role for the devil — the spirit 
whose pride leads to a denial of God. To accommodate Satan, 
he expands the Trinity to a square: the Father, the Son, Satan, 
and the Holy Spirit. This is, however, more a rhetorical device 
on Whitman's part than a statement of belief in any inherent 
evil in the Godhead. At any rate, in "Chanting the Square 
Deific" he presents the One, the Father — Jehovah, Brahma, 
Kronos — as the implacable lawgiver. The consolator, the Son, 
is of course Christ, though Whitman rather lamely represents 
him by Hermes and Hercules as well. The consolator comforts, 
forgives, loves mankind, and furnishes the mercy withheld by 
the stern father, the One. The "Santa Spirita" is the "breather 
of life," "essence of forms," the inspirer of the prophets' and 
poets' songs. And finally, 

Aloof, dissatisfied, plotting revolt, 
Comrade of criminals, brother of slaves, 
Crafty, despised, 49 



What Is Man? 53 

is Satan, "still alive," though it was thought, by the liberal theo- 
logians apparently, that he "was baffl'd, dispell'd." Proud, defi- 
ant, warlike, permanent, "equal with any, real as any," Satan 
broods "with many wiles" in the heart of man. He is a more im- 
pressive devil, in appearance, than Dostoyevsky's shabby land- 
owner, but his spiritual negations are the same. 

As a consequence of his acceptance of the presence and power 
of evil in the universe, as symbolized by the devil, Dostoyevsky 
admits the possibility of total evil among human beings. A 
number of Dostoyevsky's characters are the embodiments of 
evil and nothing else, "evil according to nature," like Claggart 
in Melville's Billy Budd. One such character is Smerdyakov in 
The Brothers Karamazov and another, personally known to 
Dostoyevsky in Siberia, is a convict of whom Dostoyevsky says, 
"Fire, plague, famine, no matter what scourge, is preferable to 
the presence of such a man in human society." 50 The universe's 
most appalling manifestations of evil are human ones. Yet in the 
same prison with the monster just described is the innocent 
Tartar, Ali, who, Dostoyevsky says, was one of those "natures 
so spontaneously good and endowed by God with such great 
qualities that the idea of their getting perverted seems absurd." 51 

Whitman doesn't limit "total depravity" to a few isolated 
men, but sees whole masses of humanity in the grip of it. In 
the Civil War he had witnessed in the armies, North and South, 
"the wolf's, the lion's lapping thirst for blood — the passionate, 
boiling volcanoes of human revenge for comrades, brothers slain 
— with the light of burning farms, and heaps of smutting, 
smouldering black embers — and in the human heart every- 
where black, worse embers. . . ." 52 And in the prison camps he 
sees even more incredible horrors: "Starvation, lassitude, filth, 
vermin, despair, swift loss of self-respect, idiocy, insanity, and 
frequent murder were there The guards would occasionally, 



54 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

and on the least pretense, fire into the prison from mere demon- 
ism and wantonness." 53 

Dostoyevsky and Whitman prescribe the same antidotes to 
the devil's poison of doubt and rebelliousness. These are "active 
love" and joyous worship of God and His creation. Madame 
Hohlakov in The Brothers Karamazov complains to Father 
Zossima that she is unable to believe in the immortality of the 
soul. The elder exhorts her to love, not in dreams, but in reality. 
This will not be easy, for love in action requires fortitude and 
hard labor. Anyone can "love humanity" and dream of reform- 
ing it, even of sacrificing one's life to it. But to love individuals 
in deeds and not in words is an infinitely more challenging task. 
Yet only with such love does one regain faith in God and hence 
in immortality. Faith is rooted in and grows from active love, 
not from mere thoughts of love. Faith, in the final analysis, is 
action. The believer must become what he believes. If he be- 
lieves God is love, and that he is "the image of God," then his 
life must be an embodiment of love. 

Dostoyevsky never achieved in real life the sustained practice 
of active love. But Whitman's life, during the Civil War at 
least, was a living demonstration of Father Zossima's great 
Christian precept. In the past, worshipful biographers of Whit- 
man have presented him as a second Incarnation. Whitman, 
however, was far from being a second Jesus. His vainglory alone 
would be sufficient to exclude him from the role. Yet the modern 
tendency to reduce Whitman to a sexual deviate whose every 
action was designed solely to satisfy his abnormal craving is 
equally regrettable. Homosexual or not, Whitman achieved 
something resembling Christlike stature in his activities during 
the War. "These soldiers know how to love . . . when once they 
have the right person and the right love offered them," 54 he 
wrote to his mother. Had this been a guilty love — and Whitman 
was apparently aware at times of his abnormality — he would 



What Is Man? 55 

scarcely have written about it to his mother whom he idolized. 
It is doubtlessly admissible to describe his love of the wounded 
soldiers as sublimated homosexual love, but this in no way 
detracts from it. Most of the constructive side of human living 
is achieved through sublimation of primitive emotions. Subli- 
mation is perhaps the greatest and most characteristic human 
ability. Thus, nourished by these experiences of selfless love 
Whitman's soul flowered into full maturity. For Father Zoss- 
ima's doctrine teaches that the soul not only creates its own 
belief in immortality but through love creates the very fact 
of immortality itself. Hell, the death of the soul, is "the suffering 
of no longer being able to love." 55 Those who fail to give them- 
selves in love will find only death, like the Grand Inquisitor's 
millions of happy babes who have never had to choose between 
love and hate. As Whitman says in a famous line, "Whoever 
walks a furlong without sympathy walks to his own funeral drest 
in his shroud." 56 In the poem "Of the Terrible Doubt of Appear- 
ances," Whitman describes how his doubts, too, are scattered by 
love, for to Whitman as to Dostoyevsky love is immortality and 
immortality is love. 

When he whom I love travels with me or sits a long while holding 

me by the hand . . . 
Then I am charged with untold and untellable wisdom, I am silent, 

I require nothing further, 
I cannot answer the question of appearances or that of identity 

beyond the grave, 
But I walk or sit indifferent, I am satisfied. . . , 57 

The doubts, like all the deepest questions of faith, are unanswer- 
able in words, but they are answerable in deeds, in love, and the 
answers are sufficient unto the soul. The mystery of what lies 
beyond the grave is insoluble except by love. 



56 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

The other antidote is joy. Whitman's whole poetic output is 
a vast paean of joy at the miracle of life. 

It is not chaos or death — it is form, union, plan — it is eternal 
life — it is Happiness. 58 

Father Zossima believes that happiness is God's will for man on 
earth. Schiller's "Ode to Joy," quoted by Dmitri, sets the key 
for this motif in The Brothers Karamazov, and it is a motif 
found everywhere in Dostoyevsky by those who do not permit 
their vision to be darkened by the myth of "Russian gloom." 
This joy in the mere fact of his own being is man's supreme 
tribute and duty to God; it is the reason for man's very existence. 
It is a tribute man must pay to his Creator even in the hours of 
greatest agony. Says Father Zossima: "The creator, just as on the 
first days of creation He ended each day with praise: 'that is 
good that I have created,' looks upon Job and again praises His 
creation. And Job praising the Lord serves not only him but all 
His Creation for generations and generations, and forever and 
ever, since for that he was ordained." 59 

Dostoyevsky's talent was called "cruel" and Whitman's 
"bestial" by their fellow countrymen, because they each had a 
vision of man that shocked conventional readers of the day. In 
later years many have felt that their conception of man may 
possibly herald a spiritual break-through for humanity as was 
promised nineteen centuries ago. St. John had the same vision 
when he proclaimed to mankind their potential of becoming 
"Sons of God." In the labyrinths of ecclesiasticism that followed 
the first centuries of Christianity, the mysticism of John was lost 
to all but a few. In unmasking the whole man in all his evil and 
all his glory, Dostoyevsky and Whitman went beyond even John 
and did indeed, as D. H. Lawrence said, approach the verge. 
In their pages the older morality and concepts, bourgeois and 



What Is Man? 57 

feudal, are gone. Son is pitted against father; "romantic" love is 
reduced to a chaos of lust and idealism, hate and sensuality; 
reason is swept aside and naked will substituted for it; war is 
presented as butchery. There remain only the New Testament 
rudiments: love of God and humanity (agape), man's freedom 
to choose between good and evil, joy in the wonder of existence. 
Man is born anew, out of the corruptions and hypocrisies, into 
the eternal verities — into a new Eden: 

As Adam early in the morning, 

Walking forth from the bower refresh'd with sleep, 

Behold me where I pass, hear my voice, approach, 

Touch me, touch the palm of your hand to my body as I pass, 

Be not afraid of my body. 60 



Ill 



CONFESSION 



To Dostoyevsky and Whitman the life of the individual soul 
is all-important, beyond the life of society or the historical 
process. The quality of any society is determined by the quality 
of the individuals in it, not vice versa as has commonly been 
held from the mid-nineteenth century onward. Insistence upon 
the worth of the individual is, of course, a major contribution of 
Judaeo-Christianity. Dostoyevsky and Whitman are both pre- 
servers of this tradition. Both, moreover, base their beliefs con- 
cerning the growth and redemption of the human soul on the 
Christian doctrine of salvation: confession, penance, forgiveness. 

Whoever degrades another degrades me, 

And whatever is done or said returns at last to me, 1 

writes Whitman in "Song of Myself" and goes on to assert 

I am not the poet of goodness only, I do not decline to be the poet 
of wickedness also. 



Confession 59 

Throughout his writing, Whitman repeatedly proclaims the 
community of human guilt, the commonalty of moral responsi- 
bility, the involvement of each in all. 

In all people I see myself, none more and not one a barley-corn less, 
And the good or bad I say of myself I say of them. 2 

Not a mutineer walks handcuff'd to jail but I am handcuff'd to 

him and walk by his side. 
(I am less the jolly one there, and more the silent one with sweat 

on my twitching lips.) 
Not a youngster is taken for larceny but I go up too and am tried 

and sentenced. 3 

You felons on trial in courts, 

You convicts in prison cells, you sentenced assassins chain'd and 

handcuff'd with iron, 
Who am I too that I am not on trial or in prison? 4 

Whitman in these verses is revealing more than his empathy 
with all humanity, his ability to step into the shoes of others 
and feel their feelings and think their thoughts. He is sharing 
their guilt, and he wishes them to know of his. He is attacking 
self-righteousness, but he is also doing more than that. A man 
may not cut himself off from the rest of humanity, even on the 
basis of his presumed goodness. So long as there is one bit of evil 
in the world, we are all responsible for it. This is one of the 
perennial lessons of Christianity, and to Whitman it is a message 
of major importance. He himself carried his own heavy burden 
of personal guilt, and in so doing he was sharing the common lot 
of man. At times at least the self-styled lusty and robust Whitman 
sounds more like a medieval ascetic castigating himself for his 
real or imagined sins: 



60 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

Let others deny the evil their enemies charge against them — but 

how can I the like? 
Nothing ever has been, or ever can be, charged against me, half as 

bad as the evil I really am. 5 

Dostoyevsky was an avid student of crime and guilt. In his 
Diary of a Writer he discusses the psychological aspects of many 
criminal cases of his day, and of course in each of his major novels 
crimes and criminals figure largely. Nor, as we have seen, is there 
any doubt that he suffered from strong guilt feelings, stronger 
than Whitman's. Dostoyevsky's guilt is reflected in many of 
his characters. Dmitri Karamazov considers himself an insect, 
Ivan calls himself a scoundrel, even Alyosha, meek and innocent 
as he is, feels pangs of guilt. The universality of guilt is a major 
theme in The Brothers Karamazov, as it is in Crime and Punish- 
ment and all of Dostoyevsky's later work. Each of the Karamazov 
brothers is guilty to some extent of his father's death. Ivan and 
Dmitri both willed the father's death, and Ivan compounded 
his guilt by callously leaving the old man in his hour of mortal 
danger. Alyosha erred morally through allowing himself to be 
so engrossed in his private grief over Father Zossima's death that 
he forgot his father and brothers. 

The manner in which a person may unconsciously become an 
accomplice in a crime is developed with great subtlety in the 
case of Ivan. A man of brilliant intellect and generous impulses, 
he would not for a moment entertain conscious thoughts of 
killing any man, much less his father. Yet in his conversations 
with Alyosha he reserves to himself the right to wish for his 
father's death, assuring his brother that wishes cannot kill. 
Ivan, an advanced, "Westernized" thinker, rejects the Biblical 
warning that he who desires another's death commits murder 
in his heart. What follows beautifully illustrates the truth of 
this warning. Smerdyakov, the bastard half-brother of Ivan and 



Confession 61 

a criminal psychopath who hates the elderly Karamazov, senses 
Ivan's wish that his father die. Smerdyakov believes that Dmitri 
will kill the old man in order to secure for himself Grushenka, 
the courtesan with whom father and son are in love, and in order 
to steal 5,000 roubles that the father is keeping in his room to 
give Grushenka when and if she decides to come to him. Smer- 
dyakov has told Dmitri of this money and has informed him of 
certain signals that Grushenka is to use to gain admittance to 
the house late at night. Smerdyakov feels that he has set a death 
trap for the old man by imparting these details to Dmitri, who 
has publicly threatened to do away with his father. He expects 
Dmitri to commit the murder within the next night or two, as 
soon as Ivan, who had been staying at the house, goes away. 
Smerdyakov will clear himself by feigning an epileptic fit. He 
tells Ivan of these circumstances, though he doesn't explicitly 
say that he has planned things to happen that way. He only fears 
that Dmitri will murder the father and that he himself will have 
a fit. He suggests that Ivan leave for a nearby village in order to 
clear himself of any suspicion in what is bound to happen. 

Ivan only half understands the real intent of Smerdyakov, 
for his brilliant mind, which should see at once through such 
transparent schemings, has been clouded by the wish for his 
father's death. Had the wish not been present, he would have 
sensed immediately what Smerdyakov was up to and would have 
taken measures to save his father. In fact, Smerdyakov assumed 
all along that Ivan was aware of his real intentions. He was talk- 
ing deviously more to exhibit his own cleverness than for any 
other reason. But, only half understanding, Ivan flies into a rage 
with this half-brother, whom he hates because he unconsciously 
recognizes in him a projection of his own submerged bestiality 
that would gladly have his father murdered. The effect as the two 
converse is uncanny. Smerdyakov seems to blend into Ivan, 
become his double. It is as if Ivan had split into two and the two 



62 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

halves were debating with one another. Thus Smerdyakov sug- 
gests, without explicitly stating, the benefits that might come to 
Ivan on the death of his father by Dmitri's hand: a hated parent 
will be killed (Old Karamazov had sadistically abused Ivan's 
and Alyosha's mother); with Dmitri's conviction a rival in love 
will be removed, for Ivan is in love with Dmitri's fiancee; Ivan's 
share of the father's legacy will be increased, since by law the 
criminal brother will lose his share. At last Ivan bursts out 
angrily: "I am going away to Moscow tomorrow if you care to 
know." 6 At that moment the murder is as surely committed, the 
guilt as squarely on Ivan, as if he had set the mechanism of a 
time bomb to be hidden in his father's room. Yet Ivan does not 
admit his guilt to himself till months later. 

At two o'clock in the morning after his talk with Smerdyakov, 
Ivan leaves his room and walks out on the landing in his father's 
house. Downstairs he hears his father pacing back and forth in 
expectation of Grushenka. Unconsciously Ivan is spying on his 
father, checking the accuracy of Smerdyakov's story. But at the 
time he doesn't realize that he is spying. Only later does he 
come to regard this as the most shameful act of his life. A sense 
of guilt — still unattached to any specific act — overwhelms him 
next day on the Moscow train. "I am a scoundrel," 7 he whispers 
to himself. 

Months after his father's murder the truth of his deep com- 
plicity comes home to him. Twice he has interviewed Smerdya- 
kov, fascinated by him as by the worse half of his own self. Each 
time he comes away still ignorant of both Smerdyakov's and his 
guilt. Finally for the third time he visits Smerdyakov, who lives 
in a shabby cottage, where one can hear the cockroaches rustling 
behind the wallpaper. On the way there, in a snowstorm, Ivan 
jolts into a drunken peasant, knocking him down and leaving 
him in the street, perhaps to freeze. So hardened is his soul in its 
struggle to establish its own guiltlessness that all compassion 



Confession 63 

has withered away within it and Ivan in his self-preoccupation 
is like a dead man. "Whoever walks a furlong without sympathy 
walks to his funeral. . . ." At Smerdyakov's, in one of literature's 
great scenes, Smerdyakov reveals to his half-brother the terrible 
depth of his guilt. 

"Aren't you tired of it? Here we are face to face; what's the use of 
going on keeping up a farce. . . . You murdered him; you are the 
real murderer, I was only your instrument, your faithful servant, 
and it was following your words I did it." 

"Did it? Why, did you murder him?" Ivan turned cold. 

Something seemed to give way in his brain and he shuddered all 
over. . . . 

"You don't mean to say you really didn't know?" Smerdyakov 
faltered. 

Ivan still gazed at him, and seemed unable to speak. . . . 

"Do you know, I am afraid you are a dream, a phantom sitting 
before me," he muttered. 8 

And in fact Smerdyakov is a sort of phantom — that of his 
cold compassionless intellect which betrayed the better part of 
him, the sympathetic human being he really was; which forced 
itself to reason, in accord with the latest theories of evolution, 
that all things are lawful and one reptile will, and should, 
devour another, and that as a man of science he can do nothing 
about it. Smerdyakov, as he discloses that in reality it was he, 
not Dmitri, who killed the old libertine, reveals that it was 
Ivan's theories that finally determined him to go on with the 
crime. After all, if Ivan's beliefs were correct, it would not be 
a crime, for there is no such thing as crime, 

Ivan resolves to make a clear breast of his guilt the next day 
in court. On the way home under the humanizing effect of this 
decision, he picks up the peasant he has left in the snow and sees 
that he gets food and shelter. But the impulse away from self 
is not strong enough in Ivan. That night he lapses into "brain 



64 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

fever" and the next day bursts raving into court, proclaiming 
the universal criminality of mankind, but proclaiming it as a 
natural, a biological fact that cannot be changed. Incapable 
of assuming personal guilt, he places the blame for his deed on 
the universal and natural degeneracy of mankind. 

"It was [Smerdyakov], not my brother, killed our father. He 
murdered him and I taught him to do it. . . . Who doesn't desire his 
father's death?" 

"Are you in your right mind?" broke involuntarily from the 
President. 

"I should think I'm in my right mind ... in the same nasty mind 
as all of you ... as all these . . . ugly faces. . . . They all desire the 
death of their fathers. One reptile devours another. ... If there 
hadn't been a murder of a father, they'd have been angry and gone 
home ill-humored. It's a spectacle they want! Partem et circenses! 
Though I am one to talk! Is there any water? Give me a drink of 
water, for Christ's sake." 9 

Ivan's case dramatically illustrates how one may be involved 
unknowingly in what appears to be another's crime. Nor does 
the fact that we are unaware of our complicity exonerate us. 
Ivan's guilt lay in his hate for his father and in his intellectual- 
ism, devoid of love and compassion. On these counts he was 
guilty, and it is from these lacks in the human soul that crime 
springs. But even where there is well-nigh perfect love and com- 
passion there is still no exemption from involvement in others' 
crimes. "We are all responsible to all for all," says the saintly 
Father Zossima — a dictum in dramatic contrast with Ivan's 
"all things are lawful." Indeed, according to Father Zossima, 
"There is only one means of salvation: . . . make yourself respon- 
sible for all men's sins. It is the truth, friends, for as soon as you 
make yourself sincerely responsible for every one and every 
thing, you will see at once that it is really so and you are in fact 
responsible for everything and every one. But throwing your 



Confession 65 

indolence and impotence on others you will end by sharing 
Satan's pride and complaining against God." 10 Ivan's fault was 
just that: throwing his guilt on mankind in general; not taking 
mankind's guilt upon himself. 

A consequence of Father Zossima's teaching that all are re- 
sponsible to all for all is that one man may not judge another, 
for the judge may be as guilty as the criminal, even though the 
judge's lapse has simply been a failure to be "a light to evil-doers, 
even as the one man sinless." 11 The idea of the judge and the 
judged being equally criminal is expressed by Whitman in the 
line already quoted: 

Who am I too that I am not on trial or in prison? 

Dostoyevsky goes beyond Whitman in exploring the ways in 
which we each share in the world's guilt. For example, through 
society's indifference to, and humiliation of, certain of our 
fellow beings, we become responsible for the sins of these "in- 
jured and insulted." According to Dostoyevsky humiliation fre- 
quently (though not always) generates pride, which is the root 
of most crime. Thus in Crime and Punishment Raskolnikov, a 
university student humiliated by poverty and consequent help- 
lessness to protect his mother and sister, develops an enormous 
pride. He feels he is a superman, exempt from the morality of 
the everyday world, who is destined to be of immense benefit to 
humanity. To prepare himself for this future role all he needs 
is money. To get this money he has only to murder and rob a 
pawnbroker, a parasite who has done nothing but harm to her 
fellow mortals. Thus in his pride Raskolnikov rationalizes him- 
self into the commission of a crime the aftermath of which he is 
completely incapable of controlling. Yet those responsible for 
Raskolnikov's humiliating poverty — whether as members of 
society or as individuals — must bear part of his guilt. 



66 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

Another case of destructive action rising from humiliation 
is that of Ilusha in The Brothers Karamazov. Dmitri has as- 
saulted Ilusha's father and dragged him through the street by 
the beard. The boy has taken his father's humiliation to heart, 
especially since his schoolmates have taunted him with it. In an 
upsurge of pride Ilusha, after wounding one of the boys with 
a penknife, turns upon the whole group of hecklers, cursing and 
hurling stones at them. When Alyosha tries to rescue him from 
the uneven struggle and to calm him, the boy bites his finger to 
the bone. Similarly the hero of Raw Youth, when accused falsely 
of being a thief, tells how he experiences "a sudden flash of 
fearful anger. 'To clear my character is impossible,' floated 
through my mind, 'to begin a new life is impossible, too, and so 
I must submit, become a lackey, a dog, an insect, an informer, a 
real informer, while I secretly prepare myself, and one day sud- 
denly blow it all up into the air, annihilate everything and every 
one, guilty and innocent alike, so that they will all know that 
this was the man they had all called a thief.' " 12 

Among many of Dostoyevsky's women characters humiliation 
is even more disruptive, though in a different manner. In The 
Brothers Karamazov, Dmitri offers Katerina Ivanovna, his 
colonel's daughter, 5000 roubles with which to save her father 
from an embezzling charge. In return she must yield her body 
to him. Katerina accepts the arrangement and keeps her appoint- 
ment with Dmitri, who then magnanimously releases her from 
her payment. He, of course, appears noble, but she appears a bit 
shabby for ever having entered into such an agreement. By her 
sense of shame she is transformed into what Dostoyevsky called 
"an infernal woman," a common type in his books. In a frenzy 
of self-martyrdom she insists on marrying Dmitri, "to show her 
gratitude," though in reality she loathes him. Even when she 
falls in love with Ivan, she refuses to relinquish Dmitri, who 
would be glad to get rid of her. She ends by destroying both 



Confession 67 

men. Likewise in The Gambler, the heroine Polina has been 
rejected by a Frenchman who had once been her lover but has 
now dismissed her with a gift of 50,000 francs. She bitterly regrets 
having accepted the money, which makes a whore of her, and 
in her humiliation-engendered pride desires to raise a like sum 
"to throw in the Frenchman's face." The hero of the story, who 
is in love with her, would gladly give her the money, but in order 
to abase herself further she perversely insists on "selling herself" 
to him. 

The masochistic relation between humiliation, pride, and 
crime, as an element in communal responsibility for the evil 
done in this world, does not enter into the speculations of Whit- 
man, who was less of a psychologist than Dostoyevsky. In the 
treatment of sin and guilt there is a closer, and startling, resem- 
blance between Hawthorne and Dostoyevsky. Like Dostoyevsky 
and Whitman, Hawthorne was well aware of the potential of 
evil in the soul of man. Indeed, in "Young Goodman Brown" the 
hero discovers in the Devil's mass his basic kinship with all man- 
kind — a sacrilege to the other two authors, who emphasized 
goodness as man's natural state. In The Blithedale Romance 
appears an "infernal woman," Zenobia, who destroys herself and 
others through her immense pride. In "A Gentle Boy" Haw- 
thorne again assesses the damage that humiliation and persecu- 
tion can do in driving their victims to pride and consequent 
sinful action. This story contains two Dostoyevskyan types: the 
meek Ilbrahim, a Quaker boy who accepts persecution passively 
and forgivingly, and the boy's vengeful mother, Catharine, who, 
after the death of her husband at the hands of the Puritans, 
smothers her humanity in a flood of hate and masochism. 
"Wherever a scourge was lifted there was she to receive the 
blow; and whenever a dungeon was unbarred thither she came, 
to cast herself upon the floor." 13 Catharine, like Katerina Iva- 
novna in The Brothers Karamazov, becomes dehumanized, the 



68 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

victim of a pride-induced compulsion to hurt herself and her 
fellow humans. To the question, who is to blame in these situa- 
tions, there is only one answer: everyone is to blame, the perse- 
cutor as well as the persecuted, the malefactor as well as those 
who set themselves up as judges. 

To Dostoyevsky, Whitman, and Hawthorne, man would seem 
to be enmeshed in a hopeless tangle of guilt. But they believed 
the tangle may be unsnarled, though the process is painful and 
intricate. First, all must admit their "responsibility to all for all." 
Each must confess his general guilt and his own more specific 
wrongdoings. Further, this confession must be made in public, 
to all humanity, for all humanity is involved. Humbling one's 
self privately before God is not sufficient to eradicate pride, the 
chief source of sin. An inordinately proud character in Raw 
Youth is described as laying his heart bare to God but cringing 
from doing so to his fellow men. As a result he remains spirit- 
ually unchanged. In Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter this truth 
is beautifully pointed up in the contrasting lives of Hester 
Prynne and her partner in adultery, the Reverend Arthur 
Dimmesdale. Hester, by the very act of giving birth to an illegit- 
imate child, is compelled to confess her guilt and for years she 
publicly wears the badge of it. Slowly she wins the respect of the 
townspeople and comes to enjoy peace of mind. Resentment at 
her humiliation melts into a quiet and selfless service to her 
fellows. But Dimmesdale carries his guilt in secret, admitting 
it only before God. His character and physical health deteriorate 
and he suffers the tortures of a self-made hell. Realizing that 
salvation lies only in public confession, he makes the futile 
gesture of announcing his sin in the town square at night when 
everyone is asleep. The ruse is of course futile. Only on his dying 
day, when he confesses to a multitude gathered to hear him 
deliver an election sermon, does he find peace. 

The case of Arthur Dimmesdale is paralleled in The Brothers 



Confession 69 

Karamazov by the story of "The Mysterious Visitor," told by 
Father Zossima. The stranger is drawn to Father Zossima because 
of his reputation for holiness. He relates that fourteen years 
before, he had murdered a woman who had spurned his love. 
Since then he has been living in hell, but believes that if he con- 
fesses "he would heal his soul and be at peace forever." To 
Father Zossima he cries: "Decide my fate!" Father Zossima 
answers, "Go and confess," and taking up the New Testament he 
shows the stranger the verse, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, 
except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth 
alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit." 14 The stranger 
does confess, at his birthday party (for this will mark a rebirth), 
after a long struggle in which he stealthily returns to Father 
Zossima with the intention of murdering him but at the last 
minute decides against the crime. Though those who hear his 
confession consider him insane, he nevertheless attains peace 
and, for the first time since his childhood, perfect sanity. Shortly 
thereafter he dies. 

Ivan and Dmitri, in The Brothers Karamazov, are contrasting 
studies of the place of confession in the journeying of the soul 
from selfish isolation into community with mankind. Dmitri 
in the first part of the book is preoccupied entirely with the 
gratification of his senses, to which end he appears ready to 
commit murder. In attempting to steal his father's money, he 
seriously wounds his old foster father, the faithful servant 
Grigory. With blood on his hands he rushes off to a wild orgy 
with Grushenka in a neighboring village. During the night he 
is arrested for the murder of his father, whom Smerdyakov had 
killed when Dmitri failed to do so. Dmitri is stripped of his 
clothing, mercilessly cross-examined, subjected to every humili- 
ation by the investigating authorities. Yet humiliation does not 
intensify the egotism of Dmitri, as is more often the case with 
Dostoyevskian characters, but kills it. His ego has died and its 



70 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

death is heralded by a dream which also heralds the rebirth of 
another Dmitri, a better one. This is the dream of the babe 
whose suffering he longs to relieve along with that of all man- 
kind. Immediately after the dream, as he is loaded into the car- 
riage for the return to town, Dmitri shouts his confession to the 
crowd gathered to see him off. 

"Gentlemen, we're all cruel, we're all monsters. We all make 
men weep, and mothers and babes at the breast, but of all, let it 
be settled here, now, of all I am the lowest reptile. Every day of 
my life I've sworn to amend, beating my breast, and every day 
I've done the same filthy things. . . . Forgive me at parting, good 
people!" 15 

The reason that Dmitri's humiliation does not harden his 
selfhood into pride is that he has always been aware of his own 
unworthiness. "I am an insect," he has repeatedly announced 
to Alyosha. Also in his pursuit of beauty and joy, even of the 
Sodom variety, he has had a sense of his oneness with humanity. 
Finally, he has known love, particularly on that evening of his 
arrest, when Grushenka declared her love for him. Love tends 
to undermine selfishness. Thus the mauling of the police kills 
an ego that is already weakened. 

But with Ivan, as we have seen, selfishness has been so in- 
trenched with intellectual pride that it can't be put to flight. 
He too is appalled by the suffering of children, but in him the 
suffering results in rebellion, a desire to hand back God's ticket 
to life in His universe. Whereas Dmitri, like Whitman, reacts 
with love to the spectacle of suffering, Ivan reacts with anger. 
Ivan, in his pride, outlines in "The Grand Inquisitor" chapter 
a plan for revising the order of things — a plan which will capital- 
ize on man's weaknesses rather than on his strengths; a plan 
stemming from contempt for man rather than from love of man. 
As for personal responsibility for the sin and suffering which he 
hopes to correct, Ivan feels none. When at last he realizes his 



Confession 71 

own guilt in his father's death, he determines to confess. For a 
moment, as we have seen, he is softened, for he aids the peasant 
whom he had previously knocked into the snow. When he makes 
his confession in court it is not a sincere one. In an outburst of 
hate he accuses all men of being patricidal. He places himself 
on their level perhaps, but that level he considers vastly lower 
than Dmitri or Dostoyevsky himself would consider it. What 
becomes of Ivan is left in doubt, probably purposely. He has thus 
far failed to make the first necessary step toward spiritual re- 
birth. His confession is an expression of wounded pride rather 
than humility. 

Whitman's poems are, in a sense, one vast expose (to use a 
favorite term of his) of the good and evil in his own character. 
But in the sense of confession of one's own sinfulness as a step 
toward spiritual health, Whitman is no more energetic than 
Dmitri. One of many such outbursts is "Confession and Warn- 
ing," poem 42 in the 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass: 

I go no farther till I confess myself in the open air, in the hearing of 

this time and future times, 
Also I make a leaf of fair warning. — 

I am he who has been sly, thievish, mean, a prevaricator, greedy, 
And I am he who remains so yet. — 

Beneath this impassive face the hot fires of hell continuously burn — 

within me the lurid smutch and smoke; 
Not a crime can be named but I have it in me waiting to break forth, 
Lusts and wickedness are acceptable to me, 
I walk with delinquents with passionate love, 
And I say I am of them — I belong to them myself, 
And henceforth I will not deny them — for how can I deny myself? 16 

Crime results from pride, frequently humiliated pride, and 
pride is the exaltation of self. Thus the death of the self, and 
with it pride, is essential for the rebirth of the individual into 



72 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

a harmonious life, that is, into love. The "corn of wheat" verse 
from St. John serves as text for this assumption. The criminal's 
glorification of his ego mounts to cutting himself off from 
humanity. By confession he takes the first step toward re-enter- 
ing humanity. This is exactly Whitman's view. The self that 
Whitman celebrates is not the isolated self, but the common 
humanity shared by all men — the good and the evil latent in all 
human souls. Thus he refuses to place himself on a pinnacle by 
the pretension of being either uniquely good or uniquely evil. 
He shares good and evil alike with all men. Neither Dostoyevsky 
nor Whitman could stomach self-righteousness. Whitman's* 
whole literary production has a tendency to deflate holier-than- 
thou smugness. Spiritually, he reiterated, we are all equals. 
That was the lesson taught by Christ during His stay on earth. 
In Dostoyevsky a striking instance of his contempt for self- 
righteousness is the treatment he gives Father Ferrapont, who 
has made a name for himself by his ferocious ascetism. He lives 
on only a few ounces of bread a day, spends whole days and nights 
on his knees, and mortifies his flesh by wearing chains under his 
cassock. So great is his pride that he seldom deigns to go to 
communion where he would have to rub elbows with less "holy" 
men. Similarly, in Hawthorne's "Lady Eleanore's Mantle" the 
Lady, while wrapped in her mantle of pride, refuses the Eucha- 
ristic cup which would have drawn her into the circle of common 
humanity. 

Two types of character are constantly recurring in nineteenth- 
century fiction. They are the innocents like Huck Finn or Tol- 
stoy's Levin (in Anna Karenina), who in their purity bungle 
through the world and gradually become initiates in its evil 
without ever succumbing to evil. The other is represented by 
many of Dostoyevsky's and Hawthorne's characters and by Whit- 
man as he presents himself in his poems. These are not innocents. 
They bear the germs of evil within themselves; it is not society, 



Confession 73 

or the world, that contaminates them. In the evil of their en- 
vironment they see mirrored their own sinfulness, and like 
Hester Prynne or Raskolnikov or Dmitri, or Whitman, they 
attain goodness only after sinning and publicly acknowledging 
their sinfulness. Even those who achieve the status of saints, like 
Father Zossima or the prostitute Sonya, have erred grievously 
before their spiritual regeneration. On the other hand, Levin 
and the boys in Mark Twain's books have never really trans- 
gressed. They are in a constant state of shock or bewilderment 
at the evil they see around them, without ever detecting the 
possibility of any similar evil within themselves, and this despite 
frequent and protracted soul-searchings. Such people are pleas- 
ant to think about, though they seem less real than the Dmitris 
and Whitmans. Dostoyevsky created only one such innocent, 
Prince Myshkin in The Idiot, whose immaculate goodness 
seemed somehow allied to his illness of epilepsy, which had to 
some extent impaired his brain. It is very significant that this 
perfectly pure character was compared to Don Quixote in that 
he was ineffectual in his sole object in life, that of helping others. 
Unlike Huck Finn or Levin, his innocence was a handicap and 
eventually destroyed not only him but all of those whom he had 
hoped to help. A knowledge and a personal experience of good 
and evil stemming from one's inner nature are necessary, Dosto- 
yevsky and Whitman would say, not only for personal survival 
but also for usefulness to others. 



IV 



PENANCE AND FORGIVENESS 



If you accept as normal life only what you can understand, then you will 
try only to expel the dull, dead weight of Destiny, of inevitable suffering 
which is a part of normal life, and never come to terms with it or fit your 
soul to the collar and bear the burden of your suffering which must be 
borne by you, or enter into the divine education and drastic discipline of 
sorrow, or rise radiant in the sacrament of pain. 

Thomas Kelly 
Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. 

Matthew 6: 12 

Suffering is necessary and inevitable, but man is created for joy. 
This paradox is perhaps the profoundest lesson coming from 
the life and works of Dostoyevsky and Whitman. And it is this 
paradox that testifies to their religious faith, for faith without 
paradox is unthinkable. "I believe because it is absurd." Dos- 
toyevsky in Siberia and Whitman in the Civil War were in con- 
tact with man bestialized and man suffering, and both from these 
experiences developed a deepened hope for mankind and faith 
in the ultimate emergence of goodness. From great suffering 
both saw the ennoblement of man; without suffering both be- 
lieved that spiritual and moral growth would rarely if ever 
occur, for suffering is one path toward the renunciation of self. 



Penance and Forgiveness 75 

Further, suffering has a spiritualizing effect because through it 
we gain a heightened realization of life's chief end — joy. So 
necessary is pain to man that often, as Dostoyevsky points out in 
Notes from Underground, he will intentionally choose pain 
rather than pleasure. Finally, through sympathy with others' 
suffering man's most nearly divine emotions are brought into 
play — compassion and love. In The Brothers Karamazov Dosto- 
yevsky works out the dialectic of pain in detail. The Grand In- 
quisitor's, or Ivan's, society in which pain is absent might be 
imposed on humanity; but once imposed, it would no longer be 
a society of men and women but of happy babes destined for 
eternal death. On the other hand, Father Zossima teaches that 
suffering is holy in its purpose and origin, and thus he bows 
down before the great potential of suffering that he sees in 
Dmitri. And to Ivan, before whom he might even more appro- 
priately have bowed, he says, ''Thank the creator who gave you 

a lofty heart capable of such suffering "* 

Just before the scene with Dmitri and Ivan, Father Zossima 
has ministered to several peasant women who are believers. 
"There is a silent and long-suffering sorrow to be met with 
among the peasantry," Dostoyevsky says. "It withdraws into it- 
self and is still. But there is a grief that breaks out, and from that 
minute it bursts into tears and finds vent in wailing. This is 
particularly common with women. But it is no lighter a grief 
than the silent. Lamentations comfort only by embittering and 
lacerating the heart still more. Such grief does not desire con- 
solation. It feeds on the sense of its hopelessness." 2 Thus when 
Father Zossima speaks to a peasant woman who has lost her child, 
he admonishes her: "Be not comforted. You do not need to be 
comforted. Weep and be not consoled. Only every time that you 
weep be sure to remember that your little son is one of the angels 
of God, that he looks down from there at you and sees you and 
rejoices at your tears, and points at them to the Lord God. And 



76 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

a long while yet you will keep that great mother's grief. But it 
will turn in the end into quiet joy, and your bitter tears will be 
only tears of quiet tenderness that purifies the heart and delivers 
it from sin." 3 

From great grief eventually will rise "quiet joy," real and 
durable joy, not untried by sorrow, in accord with the words of 
Jesus: "Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted." 
Dostoyevsky turns to the simplest people, the peasants, to illus- 
trate this truth, because it is a very simple truth and one that 
needs no belaboring. Whitman similarly seeks among the com- 
mon people for examples of basic emotions and psychological 
truths. In one of his most poignant poems, "Come Up from the 
Fields, Father," he describes how news of a son's death in the 
War arrives at an Ohio farm. It is probably just such a letter as 
Whitman himself wrote home for many a dying soldier. "I 
thought perhaps a few words," he once wrote to a bereaved par- 
ent, "though from a stranger, about your son, from one who 
was with him at the last, might be worth while — for I loved the 
young man, though I but saw him immediately to lose him." 
Absent is the conventional exhortation not to grieve, the maw- 
kish attempt at consolation. The poem "Come Up from the 
Fields, Father" is identical in tone. It makes no attempt to com- 
fort the reader and has no cliches for the mother. Her grief is like 
that of Zossima's peasant woman, and this is best for her — 

She with thin form presently drest in black, 

By day her meals untouch'd, then at night fitfully sleeping, often 

waking, 
In the midnight waking, weeping, longing with one deep longing, 
O that she might withdraw unnoticed, silent from life escape and 

withdraw 4 

Whitman, no less than Dostoyevsky, insists that out of grief 
joy will eventuate. In his elegy on Lincoln, "When Lilacs Last 



Penance and Forgiveness 77 

in the Dooryard Bloom'd," Whitman, chanting the grief of the 
whole nation, sings his "carol with joy, with joy to thee O death." 
But the grief remains, inevitable, the essential substratum of joy. 

I saw the battle corpses, myriads of them, 

And the white skeletons of young men, I saw them, 

I saw the debris and the debris of all the slain soldiers of the war, 

But I saw they were not as was thought. 

They themselves were fully at rest, they suffer'd not, 

The living remain'd and suffer'd, the mothers suffer'd, 

And the wife and child and the musing comrade suffer'd, 

The armies that remain'd suffer'd. 5 

Thus to Whitman and Dostoyevsky suffering, even of the 
apparently undeserving, is spiritually healthy for the sufferer. 
To neither author is there any wholly undeserved suffering for 
there are no wholly innocent people. Each of us shares in the 
world's guilt and each must share in its pain. It is for the puri- 
fication of the criminal in all of us that suffering is ordained. 
Whitman in case after case, among soldiers of all degrees of 
goodness and badness, saw as an almost ineluctable law an en- 
noblement of spirit as suffering increased and death approached. 
"I never knew what American young men were till I came into 
the hospital," 6 he wrote to his mother — which would seem to 
say that their full spiritual stature was attained only in their 
death throes. Nor did he ever attend a soldier who feared death 
when the time came. Yet these are the same soldiers who perpe- 
trated the bestialities of "war's hell scenes," North and South, 
and Whitman had no illusions about their innocence. "The war 
was not a quadrille in a ball room. . . . The actual soldier with 
all his ways ... his incredible dauntlessness, habits, practices, 
tastes, language, his fierce friendship, his appetites, rankness, his 
superb strength and animality, lawless gait, and a hundred un- 



78 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

named lights and shades of camp, I say, will never be written — 
perhaps must not and should not be." 7 

Dostoyevsky develops in more detail than does Whitman his 
concept of the role of suffering in the transformation of human 
character. Hawthorne's psychology of suffering, however, is 
quite comparable to that of Dostoyevsky. Hester Prynne attains 
spiritual maturity only after years of public penance. As was 
the case with Dmitri, the death of her ego signalized the birth of 
love in her soul, and in her last days she was something of a saint. 
Dimmesdale's suffering, too, brings him eventual greatness of 
soul, but only at the hour of his death. Hawthorne's view is that 
of Dostoyevsky: punishment is as "essential to the soul of the 
criminal ... as its salvation from despair." 8 Thus in The 
Brothers Karamazov Dmitri hungers for punishment after the 
upsurge of love from his subconscious — after the death of the 
self and his rebirth into humanity as heralded by his public 
confession. He will go to the mines, as we have seen, and sing 
hymns of joy deep underground. "We shall be in chains and 
there will be no freedom, but then in our great sorrow we shall 
rise again to joy." This craving for punishment is not a selfish 
one. Dmitri is undergoing it for "the babe" that he has seen in 
his dream. "All are responsible for all. ... [I go to Siberia] for 
all the 'babes/ for there are big children as well as little children. 
All are 'babes.' I go for all because some one must go for all." 9 
The implication is that "atonement" for the common sin of 
humanity is an impulse in all of us. 

Dmitri's eagerness to be punished for his individual sin as 
well as those of all society is incomprehensible to the modernists 
in The Brothers Karamazov. There is much speculation as to 
whether Dmitri's crime of patricide, which everyone but 
Alyosha thought he had committed, is the result of mental aber- 
ration, and an eminent physician is summoned from Moscow 
to prove Dmitri's insanity. Some, such as the journalist Rakitin, 



Penance and Forgiveness 79 

who bends like a willow before every wind of doctrine (the name 
is from rakita, a willow), hold that Dmitri is the victim of socio- 
logical forces. Rakitin uses the Karamazov affair for articles on 
the unhealthy tendencies in Russian society and hints that social- 
ism is the cure. But Dmitri rejects both these approaches, the 
sociological as well as the psychiatric. He will not allow himself 
to be regarded as a machine possessing no knowledge of good 
and evil and no control over its actions. His "would-be saviours" 
wish to strip him of his humanity, of his soul, all for the purpose 
of preserving his body from suffering. To these people he shouts 
the name Bernard — the French physician who believed all 
human conduct could be explained and forecast by physiology 
and who, as one of the most influential of the new scientific 
determinists of the nineteenth century, was a strong influence on 
Zola, the foremost literary exponent of individual irresponsi- 
bility. 

To Dostoyevsky a terrible inconsistency was developing in 
Western Europe between modern criminology and the tradi- 
tional systems of justice. On the one hand the most advanced 
thinkers were proclaiming that there was no crime. Man's ac- 
tions were the result of social and biological factors outside of 
the will. On the other hand criminals were sent to prison just as 
always. These unfortunates, then, were doing penance for ac- 
tions for which, they were assured, they were not to blame. The 
inevitable result was bitterness and despair. Punishment, to 
Dostoyevsky, can be beneficial only when the sufferer feels it is 
deserved and when he feels he is being forgiven for his wrong- 
doing. 

Forgiveness, "the intelligence of the heart," 10 as Dostoyevsky 
calls it, is therefore the last step in the absolution and regener- 
ation of the human soul. Father Zossima thought that in Russia 
forgiveness was the special duty of the church which, "like a 
tender, loving mother, holds aloof from active punishment her- 



80 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

self, as the sinner is already too severely punished by the civil 
court, and there must at least be some one to have pity on him." 11 
Should the church join in the punishment, ''there could be no 
more horrible despair, at least for the Russian criminal." Christ 
for Dostoyevsky, as for Whitman, is the consoler, not the 
avenger; the accepter, not the rejecter. 

"Compassion is the chief law of human existence," 12 says 
Dostoyevsky in The Idiot, and J. C. Powys asserts that in the 
Russian soul "ecstatic pity" occupies the same place as romantic 
love in the Western soul. Be that as it may, compassion, not ro- 
mantic love, was a chief law of Whitman's heart also. Com- 
passion, which must antecede forgiveness, may be denned as 
the giving and receiving of love to and from all human beings, 
no matter who they may be. Whitman's compassion, in this 
sense of the word, for all down-and-outers and criminals is, of 
course, a basic theme of his writings. 

... I pick out some low person for my dearest friend. 

He shall be lawless, rude, illiterate, he shall be one condemn'd by 
others for deeds done, 

I will play a part no longer, why should I exile myself from my com- 
panions? 

you shunned persons, I at least do not shun you, 

1 come forthwith in your midst, I will be your poet, 
I will be more to you than to any of the rest. 13 

Many of Dostoyevsky's characters are possessed of great com- 
passion. Such are Alyosha, Father Zossima, and Sonya, but leader 
of them all in compassion is Prince Myshkin in The Idiot. The 
Prince has been thrown into the company of psychotics and 
criminals. Out of pity he offers to marry the beautiful but fan- 
tastically erratic N astasia Philipovna, whose life has been a pro- 
longed self-laceration stemming from her girlhood humiliation 
by an older nobleman who took her as his mistress. The homi- 



Penance and Forgiveness 81 

cidal Rogozhin, whose blazing eyes are those of a madman, also 
wishes to marry Nastasia, and it is to rescue her from that fate 
that Myshkin proposes marriage to her and is accepted. The 
jealous Rogozhin exchanges crosses with the Prince, but later 
attempts to murder him. On the day of the wedding, Nastasia, 
as she emerges from her house, sees Rogozhin's gleaming eyes in 
the crowd on the sidewalk and rushes off with him. The Prince 
traces the pair to Petersburg and eventually to Rogozhin's mas- 
sive and gloomy house. Rogozhin admits him and takes him to 
Nastasia, who is lying on a bed, stabbed to death by Rogozhin, 
and surrounded by jars of disinfectant to cover the smell of de- 
composition. Rogozhin is raving mad. He suggests that he and 
the Prince spend the night together. "Rogozhin began to 
wander — muttering disconnectedly: then he took to shouting 
and laughing. The Prince stretched out a trembling hand and 
gently stroked his hair and his cheeks — he could do nothing 
more. . . . Meanwhile the daylight grew full and strong; and at 
last the Prince lay down, as though overcome by despair, and 
laid his face against the white motionless face of Rogozhin. His 
tears flowed onto Rogozhin's cheeks, though he was perhaps not 
aware of it himself." 14 Myshkin's compassion is so intense that 
he cannot endure the suffering of his "enemy." As Rogozhin 
goes into brain fever, the Prince lapses back into "idiocy." But 
this outcome in no way neutralizes the benign effects of forgive- 
ness. Nothing can correct certain situations, and certain persons 
are beyond redemption; Rogozhin is one of these. His crime can 
only be atoned for by the prince's forgiveness and sacrifice of 
his own reason. That this may, and does, happen is proved by the 
effect of this scene on the reader. Rather than being struck with 
revulsion at Rogozhin's mad crimes, the reader is left with a 
sense of ennoblement of the human spirit. The monstrousness 
of Rogozhin's acts are negatived by the beauty of the Prince's 
compassion. 



82 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

Forgiveness is the only effective means of dealing with crime, 
says Dostoyevsky in commenting on Anna Karenina in his Diary 
of a Writer. In Tolstoy's novel, he finds "an immense psycho- 
logical analysis of the human soul hitherto unknown in Russia." 
The scene in which Anna, almost dead from the birth of Vron- 
sky's son, is forgiven by her husband is indeed as powerful a 
demonstration of the redemptive power of forgiveness as any 
from Dostoyevsky's own pen. In it is made 

clear and intelligible to the point of obviousness that evil is con- 
cealed deeper in mankind than the physician-socialists suppose . . . 
that the laws of the human spirit are so unknown to science . . . that 
there can neither be physicians nor final judges but that there is 
only He who saith "Vengeance is mine, I will repay." . . . And man, 
as yet, with the pride of infallibility, should not venture to solve 
anything. . . . The human judge himself must know that he is not 
the final judge; that he himself is a sinner; that in his hands scales 
and measures will be an absurdity, if holding the scales and measures 
he fails to submit to the law of insoluble mystery and to resort to 
the only solution — to Mercy and Love . . . [by which in Anna's near 
death] criminals and enemies are suddenly transformed into broth- 
ers, who have forgiven each other everything; beings who by mutual 
all-forgiveness, have removed from themselves deceit, guilt and 
crime, and thereby at once acquitted themselves with full cognizance 
of the fact that they have become entitled to acquittal." 15 

This mistrust of merely rational, sociological attempts — like 
those of "the physician socialists" — to deal with human guilt and 
sin is shared by Whitman. "The origin of evil," he writes, "is a 
question that has puzzled all developed thoughtful minds 
through all the ages, and it is so dark and deep and mystic a 
problem that not the wisest of them has ever been able to peer 
behind one fold of the thick veil. And you [reformers] approach 
this mighty mystery and hold forth in your puny hands your 
potent 'specific' for its cure." 16 The only specific against evil, to 



Penance and Forgiveness 83 

Whitman, is that proposed by Dostoyevsky: confession, penance, 
forgiveness. 

Whitman in Democratic Vistas asserts that the reason Christ 
appeared "in the moral-spiritual field for human-kind" was to 
demonstrate "that in respect to the absolute soul, there is in the 
possession of such by each individual, something so transcend- 
ent, so incapable of gradation (like life) that, to that extent, it 
places all beings on a common level, utterly regardless of the 
distinctions of intellect, virtue, station or any height or lowliness 
whatever." 17 Christ, for both Whitman and Dostoyevsky, exists 
within the human soul, though for Whitman Christ is less exclu- 
sively divine than for Dostoyevsky. To each the Christ within 
us is that residue of the good and the beautiful — and hence of 
love and the divine — that rests at the center of all our souls, no 
matter how deeply encrusted they may be by evil and ugliness. 
In different words, it is the ideal of the Madonna, which Dmitri 
Karamazov sees existing in men's hearts side by side with the 
ideal of Sodom. Release of this potential of love — for that is 
what it is — makes for a joyous life. But to the degree that it is 
imprisoned within walls of evil, the personality is unhappy, 
neurotic, warped. The id, as we have said before, need not al- 
ways be evil or purely animal. It contains much of good, of 
beauty, of love, also; perhaps in the profoundly criminal per- 
sonality this is almost entirely submerged, as in Stavrogin with 
his enormous capability for crime. In others, the saints, in Jesus 
totally, the love is unhampered; and as God is love, Jesus is God, 
the omniscient, all-powerful, all-encompassing divine love. 
Orthodox Christianity, which Dostoyevsky so fervently sup 
ported, strives to release love in man, to nurture the Christ 
within him through its teaching and the sacraments, especially 
the Eucharist, which feeds the God within. "I assert," writes 
Dostoyevsky, "that our people have long been enlightened, hav- 
ing embraced in their hearts Christ and His teachings. . . . The 



84 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

people acquired this knowledge in churches where, for centuries, 
they have been listening to prayers and hymns which are better 
than sermons." 18 But less formal or traditional religion may 
have the same end, as Whitman's assuredly did. "I claim every- 
thing for religion," 19 he said. And these claims of his religion 
may be reduced to one claim, which is that of St. John: "He that 
loveth not, knoweth not God; for God is Love. . . If we love one 
another, God dwelleth in us." (I John 4:8-12) The release of 
love within the individual, indeed, is the goal of all Judaeo- 
Christianity, and the validity of this goal is recognized by secular 
science. Psychiatrists and priests alike know, in our day, that only 
through love can man or woman realize to the full the human 
destiny, which is joy. Psychology and religion, whether one be- 
lieves in the "truth" of one or the other, or of both, are here on 
common ground. 

Dostoyevsky's novels and Whitman's poetry and prose, and 
indeed his life itself, have in common something so fundamen- 
tally important that in comparison all differences fade into in- 
significance. Both are records of the repeated release, into 
seemingly hopeless situations, of a cleansing and redemptive 
love. But the situations in which these releases occur are the 
commonplace, the fundamental ones, which have been rendered 
hopeless solely because of the aura of hate that surrounds them. 
They may occur at a deathbed, as in Whitman's Civil War poems 
and memoirs, or at the bedside of the dying Ilusha in The 
Brothers Karamazov. They may occur at a birth, as in the mag- 
nificent blooming of love in Shatov's character, in The Pos- 
sessed, when his wife bears a child conceived by another man, 
and Shatov's response, far from anger, is a paean of love for all 
life. They may occur, as so frequently in Dostoyevsky, at a simple 
gathering of friends — a dinner, a birthday party, a tete-a-tete 
like Alyosha's and Ivan's at the tavern, when they cement their 
love for one another during a discussion of the relations of God 



Penance and Forgiveness 85 

and man and the meaning of life. They may occur in work and 
play with simple humble people, as in Whitman's companion- 
ship with ferry-boat pilots and omnibus drivers or Dostoyevsky's 
relations with certain of the convicts in Siberia. 

Remarkable parallels, of course, may be made with other 
authors, such as Dickens, where the basic human situations are 
the settings for spiritual metamorphoses. In Tolstoy's Anna 
Karenina, at the death of Levin's brother Nicholas, the hitherto 
rather childish Kitty is changed into a loving and efficient nurse 
to the sufferer. The release of love here is entirely impersonal — 
agape of the Good Samaritan type. It is a manifestation of 
spiritual maturity. Finally, in Anna Karenina Levin's experi- 
ences of comradeship with the peasants as he mows hay with 
them are analogous to Whitman's outbursts of love for the com- 
mon people, soldiers and civilians. 

As regards the fundamentals of man's spiritual life. Dosto- 
yevsky and Whitman were in close agreement. Too much may be 
made of Dostoyevsky's Orthodoxy as a possible point of disagree- 
ment. True, Whitman feared and scorned most religious organi- 
zations and presumably would not have been an admirer of the 
highly organized Eastern Church. Yet Whitman speaks of Chris- 
tianity, in its essence, as ''incomparably superior to all other 
religions," and believed the birth of Jesus "vitally started mani- 
fold seeds of true good which had for ages lain dormant in 
humanity." 20 These are thoughts with which Dostoyevsky would 
have heartily concurred. As a matter of fact, he speaks little, if at 
all, of the ritualistic, dogmatic side of Orthodoxy. He believes 
that better than any other sect it has preserved Christ in the heart 
of its people, but he attributes this success to the spirit of Ortho- 
doxy rather than to its liturgy. Indeed, in a number of respects 
he deviates from strictest Orthodox doctrine. Father Zossima, 
who certainly represents the best of Orthodoxy to Dostoyevsky, 
differs from the teachings of the church in several ways: he 



86 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

doesn't believe in a material hell, he advocates public confession, 
he prays for suicides, and he asks forgiveness of plants and birds. 
Thus such rigid believers as the self-righteous Father Ferrapont 
strongly disapprove of the elder. 

The spirit of Christianity is always more important to Dosto- 
yevsky than its forms, as is seen in his story "Dream of a Ridicu- 
lous Man," in which is described a Utopia where peace and love, 
joy and beauty prevail without exception. The religion of these 
happy people in no way resembles, in form, any Orthodoxy, 
Russian or otherwise. In fact it sounds much more like Whit- 
man's religion than Dostoyevsky's. "They had no places of wor- 
ship, but they had a certain awareness of a constant, uninter- 
rupted and living union with the universe at large. They had no 
specific religion, but instead they had a certain knowledge that 
when their earthly joy had reached the limits imposed on it by 
nature, they — both the living and the dead — would reach a state 
of still closer communion with the Universe at large." 21 

Although Dostoyevsky asserts that there is no church, no 
Christianity in the West, still one may find there "many Chris- 
tians who will never disappear." 22 One of these is Dickens, whom 
he calls a "great Christian." Another is George Sand, who 

died a deiste, with a staunch belief in God and in her immortal 
life. ... In addition she was perhaps the most Christian among all 
persons of her age — French writers — even though she did not con- 
fess Christ (as does a Roman Catholic). Of course, being a French- 
woman, in accord with the conception of her compatriots, George 
Sand could not consciously adhere to the idea "that in the whole 
universe there is no name other than His through which one may 
be saved" — the fundamental idea of Orthodoxy — yet despite this 
seeming and formal contradiction, George Sand, I repeat, was per- 
haps, without knowing it herself, one of the staunchest confessors 
of Christ. She based her socialism [which was anathema to Dostoyev- 
sky], her convictions, her hopes and her ideals upon the moral feel- 



Penance and Forgiveness 87 

ing of man, upon the spiritual thirst of mankind and its longing 
for perfection and purity, and not upon "ant-necessity." All her 
life she believed absolutely in human personality (to the point of its 
immortality) . . . and thereby she concurred in thought and feeling 
with one of the basic ideas of Christianity, i.e., the recognition of 
human personality and its freedom. . . . And, perhaps, in the France 
of her time there was no thinker and no writer who understood so 
clearly as she that "man shall not live by bread alone." . . . and on 
more than one occasion she has portrayed characters of the most 
sincere forgiveness and love. 23 

This passage, which should help to correct the widespread 
misunderstanding that Dostoyevsky was a thorough bigot, states 
a viewpoint very close to that of Whitman, who always claimed 
to be in accord with the teachings of Jesus, though he rejected 
most of the churches that taught in His name. The enthusiasm 
of Dostoyevsky for George Sand would have delighted Whitman, 
whose favorite novelist she was. There are many parallels be- 
tween the thought of George Sand on the one hand and that of 
Dostoyevsky and Whitman on the other. But more significant 
than the possible common source of some of their ideas is the 
fact that they are parallel in so many instances. Perhaps Dosto- 
yevsky and Whitman would have despised one another, but more 
likely they would have found much to admire. Be that as it may, 
they were exploring the same depths and peaks of the spiritual 
life of the same human race, and were making many of the same 
discoveries, or rediscoveries — some of which may be of the 
utmost importance in the future of man. 



V 



LOVE 



And there is no other love than this, that a man should lay down his life 
for his friend. Love is only when it is the sacrifice of one's self. Only 
when a man gives to another, not merely his time and his strength, but 
when he spends his body for the beloved object, gives up his life for him, — 
only this do we acknowledge as love; and only in such love do we find 
happiness, the reward of love. And only in virtue of the fact that there is 
such love towards men, only in this, does the world stand. 

Lyof Tolstoy 

Man's destiny is to find joy through love; and love, we have seen, 
is released through confession, penance or suffering, and forgive- 
ness. Both Whitman and Dostoyevsky understood love in its 
Christian sense, that is, as brotherly love, or agape or charity. 
This type of love Whitman sometimes called adhesiveness, love 
of comrades and friends. For sexual love he used another phren- 
ological term, amativeness. 

Erich Fromm writes, "Sexual desire can often blend with and 
be stimulated by any strong emotion, of which love is only one." 1 
To Dmitri in The Brothers Karamazov } "Being in love doesn't 
mean loving. You may be in love with a woman and yet hate 
her." 2 It is possible to love, in the passionate sense, at the same 



Love 89 

time that one hates, as is the case with so many Dostoyevskian 
"lovers." Katya Ivanovna hates Dmitri because he has humili- 
ated her but loves him out of gratitude. Her gratitude she be- 
lieves should express itself in giving herself in marriage, but her 
hate determines her to "reform" him after the marriage takes 
place. Eventually, as we have seen, she destroys both Dmitri and 
Ivan, the man she unreservedly loves. Also in The Brothers 
Karamazov, Lise, who vents her masochism in the act of inten- 
tionally slamming her finger in a door — for "kicks," in modern 
parlance — attempts to establish a liaison with Ivan, with whom, 
in the morbid state of her mind, she sees a further opportunity 
of torturing herself. She shies away from Alyosha's love, though 
she has encouraged it, because he will give her nothing but ten- 
derness. In The Idiot Nastasia Philipovna both loves and hates 
Rogozhin, who in turn both loves and hates her and eventually 
murders her. In stories like "A Gentle Spirit" or Notes from 
Underground, neurotics with a sadistic bent have sexual affairs 
with, or marry, passive women whom they delight in subjecting 
to mental torture and humiliation. Thus the hero of Notes from 
Underground accepts the love of a mere pitiable child of a prosti- 
tute, assures her of his love for her, and receives her at his home 
only to insult her by offering her money in return for her com- 
ing. In short, persons totally incapable of selfless love may enter 
with gusto into sexual affairs as outlets for every conceivable 
normal or abnormal impulse. The result is what Dostoyevsky 
calls "those outbursts of sensuality which overtake almost every- 
body on our earth, whether man or woman, and are the only 
source of almost every sin of our human race." 3 

Dostoyevsky did not, of course, rule out genuine love between 
man and woman. Yet where such love does exist the sexual ele- 
ment is usually minimized. Sonya and Raskolnikov love one 
another but not "passionately." Myshkin and Nastasia (so far 
as she reciprocates) love one another as brother and sister. But 



90 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

these cases are relatively rare in Dostoyevsky. Much more con- 
sistently does he underscore the destructiveness of sexuality. 

This idea of the destructiveness of sex is not, of course, a new 
one. In fact, the notion that sexual love is conducive only to 
bliss is quite exceptional and recent in human history. Aphro- 
dite, to the Greeks, was a cruel, vindictive goddess, as was her 
son Eros. One need read only the account of the love of Dido and 
Aeneas to realize what the ancients felt about sexual passion. 
Not only does Dido kill herself as a result of her passion, but the 
whole course of human history would have been radically 
changed by it had not a stronger and worthier love, that of Duty, 
overcome Aeneas's lust for Dido and sent him on to found the 
Roman Empire. Similarly in many of the Greek tragedies and in 
Ovid, sexual desire is a wrecker and destroyer. The gods them- 
selves are not exempt from its ravages. 

The destructiveness of sex is a theme in many Russian novels 
of the nineteenth century. Anna Karenina is destroyed by her 
passion for Vronsky. In Turgenev's Fathers and Sons the would- 
be superman, Bazarov, succumbs to an infatuation which he 
tries to beat down but which ends by wrecking a career that he 
had hoped to devote to the betterment of mankind. Some critics, 
like the philosopher-theologian Berdyaev, attribute the unro- 
mantic treatment of love in Russian literature, especially in 
Dostoyevsky, to the fact that the medieval cult of Courtly Love, 
the "platonic" worship of womanhood, did not penetrate into 
Russia from Western Europe. The knightly ideals of chastity 
and idealization of women supposedly did much to soften the 
harshness of sexual attraction in the West, but Russia retained 
the classic dualistic idea of Eros as being sweet and ruthless at 
the same time. 

Also, Dostoyevsky's experience with women did much to 
remove in his outlook the romance of sexual love. Of his love 
for the woman who was to be his first wife he wrote a friend, "I 






Love 91 

am an unhappy madman. Such love is a disease." 4 The woman 
did indeed seem to enjoy torturing him, apparently loving him 
and scorning him at the same time, as so many of Dostoyevsky's 
heroines do their lovers and suitors. For a period in their court- 
ship she was having an affair with an impoverished school- 
teacher but yet would not release her hold on Dostoyevsky. The 
two rivals were friendly, Dostoyevsky putting himself out to be 
gracious. Eventually the marriage took place, but it was never 
a happy one. More disruptive in Dostoyevsky's life was his extra- 
marital affair with Appolinaria Suslova, a young girl of twenty 
(half Dostoyevsky's age) who had come into his life as a contribu- 
tor to a magazine he was editing. A most ardent liaison resulted. 
The two finally arranged a rendezvous in Paris, but when Dosto- 
yevsky arrived there, leaving a sick wife, Polina had become the 
mistress of a Spanish medical student. Dostoyevsky was in de- 
spair, but soon the Spaniard threw over Polina. She and Dosto- 
yevsky then determined to take a trip as brother and sister 
through Switzerland and Italy, pawning their possessions as they 
went. The trip was a prolonged torture for Dostoyevsky, who 
had come face to face in Polina with the infernal woman who was 
to people many of his later novels. Under the stress of the affair, 
he became prey to the gambling monomania which proved as 
great an agony as his love affair or his epilepsy. Only in the last 
ten years of his life, when he was married to the meek Anna Snit- 
kin, his former secretary, did he find in his relation with a 
woman a love that brought him peace and not agony. Anna 
Snitkin's love, like that of Sonya for Raskolnikov in Crime and 
Punishment, was compassionate and motherly and did not stem 
solely from sexual desire. 

The vast chasm between love as sexual passion and love as 
agape or caritas is as deep and seemingly unbridgeable in Whit- 
man's writing as in that of Dostoyevsky. It has often been said 
that Whitman presents heterosexual love with about as little 



92 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

aura of romance as one would describe the coitus of animals. 
Even his somewhat enthusiastic references to "well-mated" 
husbands and wives emphasize the physical side of love between 
the sexes. The physical indeed is the whole burden of "Children 
of Adam," that section of Leaves of Grass that celebrates pro- 
creation. With a frankness and an ardor unknown in the litera- 
ture of the century, Whitman sings the delights of "the body 
electric," both male and female, and goes into transports over 
the supposed mystic significance of the sexual act. Yet in these 
spasms of verbal masturbation there is nothing more spiritual, 
or "romantic," or tender, than there is in the coming together 
of a stallion and mare. 

Limitless limpid jets of love hot and enormous, quivering jelly of 
love, white blow and delirious juice, 

Bridegroom night of love working surely and softly into the pros- 
trate dawn, 

Undulating into the willing and yielding day, 

Lost in the cleave of the clasping and sweet-flesh'd day. 5 

This outbreak, which is a fair specimen of what Whitman could 
write on the subject of copulation, is surprising from the pen of a 
man who, we are almost universally assured, was a homosexual. 
But more important, and perhaps because of his presumed 
homosexuality, such passages belong to the erotic rather than 
the romantic tradition of love poetry. One would have to look 
far in world literature to find passages so crassly sensual. The 
only significance Whitman permits himself to see in the orgasms 
he describes in such detail is the admittedly important one that 
they supply the need for "superb children." But these children 
seem to be born of lust to the exclusion of love. Further, the 
libidinous joys that Whitman records are mixed with pain of 
equal intensity, exactly as are the sexual yearnings of Dosto- 
yevsky's Rogozhins and Dmitris, though scenes of consummation 



Love 93 

like those in Whitman are lacking in the more reticent Dosto- 
yevsky. Lines like the following, selected at random from "Chil- 
dren of Adam," do not suggest the blissful selflessness of 
spiritualized love. 

One hour to madness and joy! O furious! O confine me not! 
(What is this that frees me so in storms? 

What do my shouts amid lightnings and raging winds mean?) 
O to drink the mystic deliria deeper than any other man! 
O savage and tender achings! 6 

O hymen! O hymenee! why do you tantalize me thus? 

why sting me for a swift moment only? 7 

1 am he that aches with amorous love. 8 

These "children of Adam" poems have a vocabulary heavily 
weighted toward pain: tantalize, sting, ache, madness, furious, 
savage. Surely such words have little relation to the love whose 
perfect type was incarnated in Galilee two thousand years ago. 
Whitman's sexual poems describe a love that is potentially a 
destroyer of the peace of the soul, a ravager of the emotions, like 
the sexual love in Dostoyevsky's work and in so many of the 
ancients. 

The equating of love and sex — as evidenced in the naive be- 
lief among so many moderns that a careful study of a handbook 
will ensure a happy marriage — is becoming recognized as one 
of the great contemporary errors. In sensing that love and sex 
may as often as not be antagonists rather than allies, Whitman 
and Dostoyevsky were ahead of or at variance with their age. 
Perhaps it is one of the great achievements of love that it has in 
some measure subdued the destructive blaze of sex, though it 
has by no means extinguished it. Perhaps it is part of the "real- 



94 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

ism," the insight, of Dostoyevsky and Whitman that they refuse 
to equate two forces which, at times at least, are so completely at 
odds. At any rate, in this view Dostoyevsky and Whitman are in 
accord with the Christian tradition, whose Founder was born 
without benefit of the biological act of copulation. The high 
opinion that Dostoyevsky, in The Brothers Karamazov , holds of 
the monastic life and the relative sexlessness of his meek heroes 
and heroines and Whitman's emphasis on the brotherly love of 
comrades all reflect the Christian, especially the Pauline, evalua- 
tion of sex as inimical to the spiritual life in its fullest mani- 
festation. 

But neither Dostoyevsky nor Whitman went to the extreme 
of Tolstoy in his later years, who regarded all sexual passion, 
within or outside of marriage, as degrading and injurious, and 
who in his Kreuizer Sonata, a novel of murder induced by sexual 
jealousy, wrote one of the most violent attacks on sexual love and 
marriage since the Middle Ages. Unlike either Dostoyevsky and 
Whitman, Tolstoy would follow the Shakers in eradicating 
sexual intercourse entirely, even at the cost of the survival of 
the human race. 

In Anna Karenina Tolstoy shows step by step how in the un- 
conscious mind the desire for death and the desire for sexual 
passion grow simultaneously and are in reality two expressions 
of one and the same force. The birth of this love-death wish is 
portrayed with stunning impact in the scene in the railway car- 
riage as Anna returns to Petersburg after her first meeting with 
her lover, Count Vronsky. Filled with misgivings as to her feel- 
ings, as a married woman, for Vronsky, she drops into a half- 
sleep. "Moments of doubt were continuously coming upon her 
when she was uncertain whether the train were going forwards 
or backwards or was standing still altogether; whether it were 
Annushka at her side or another. 'What's that on the arm of the 



Love 95 

chair, a fur cloak or some beast? And what am I myself? Myself or 
some other woman?' She was afraid of giving way to this delir- 
ium. But something drew her towards it, and she could yield to 
it or resist it alt will." [Italics mine.] When a peasant comes in to 
stoke the stove she arouses herself briefly. Then she lapses into 
full nightmare. "That peasant with the long waist seemed to be 
gnawing at something on the wall, the old lady began stretching 
her legs the whole length of the carriage, and filling it with a 
black cloud. Then there was a fearful shrieking and banging, as 
though some one were being torn to pieces; then there was a 
blinding dazzle of red fire before her eyes and a wall seemed to 
rise up and hide everything. Anna felt as though she were sink- 
ing down. But it was not terrible but delightful." 9 [Italics mine.] 
This is a dream, of course, of her own self-inflicted death, which 
at the end of the book is described in almost the same words. The 
desire for death, even the form she would will it to take, was 
conceived in her subconscious mind at the same time that she 
yielded, again in the subconscious, to Vronsky, whom she meets 
at the next station on the blizzard-swept platform, where he 
declares his love for her. The story of her love is the story of her 
journey toward suicide — both of which she could resist or not 
at will. 

This same love-death syndrome is developed in very similar 
fashion in Thomas Mann's "Death in Venice" and his The 
Magic Mountain. In The Magic Mountain Hans Castorp, suf- 
fering from boredom quite like Anna's, is fascinated by the 
manifestations of death at the Swiss health resort he is visiting. 
He dreams of death — of coasting downhill on a bobsled like 
those employed to remove corpses from some of the remoter 
sanatoria. At the same time he becomes enamored of a married 
woman, pretty, though a sloven both morally and physically. As 
his relation with her builds up toward bodily union, he realizes 



96 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

that his interest in death and his feelings for her are one and the 
same. And yet he plunges downwards into the abyss. Only when 
brought face to face with death by freezing is he saved, like 
Dmitri, by a dream of the beauty and agony of humanity, which 
marks the upsurge of unselfish, thus healthy love, from his un- 
conscious. Thomas Mann always admitted his debt to Tolstoy 
and Dostoyevsky, and nowhere is this debt more evident than 
in his treatment of the libido, which, amazingly, so often fails to 
differentiate between lust for copulation and lust for death. 

What is spiritual love, agape, as found in Dostoyevsky's and 
Whitman's writings? It is selflessness, which sensual love cannot 
be; and it is compassion. But it is more. It is a positive force, 
discrete from all other forces, latent within the emotions of all 
men. We have seen that Father Zossima regards love as that 
which generates joy and faith in immortality and God. Love is 
God. "However religious a man may be," writes a present-day 
author, "however correct his beliefs and punctilious his ritual 
observances, unless he loves he does not know God." 10 Love to 
the medieval mind was that which establishes harmony among 
all mankind and in all nature. It establishes civil order and gov- 
ernments and regulates the tides, the seasons, the movements of 
the sun, moon, and stars. Love is what creates order out of chaos. 
Love again by this definition is God. This "bond of love," as it 
is called in Chaucer and elsewhere, is what Whitman celebrates 
in one of his most lyrical mystical passages: 

Swiftly arose and spread around me the peace and knowledge that 

pass all arguments of the earth, 
And I know the hand of God is the promise of my own, 
And I know the spirit of God is the brother of my own, 
And that all men ever born are also my brothers and the women my 

sisters and lovers, 
And that a kelson of the creation is love, 



Love 97 

And limitless are leaves stiff or drooping in the fields, 
And brown ants in the little wells beneath them, 
And mossy scales of the worm fence, heap'd stones, elder, mullein 
and poke-weed. 11 

Close in feeling — for these mystical transports transcend 
thought and are entirely in the realm of feeling or intuition — is 
Father Zossima's exhortation: "Love all God's creation, the 
whole and every grain of sand in it. Love every leaf, every ray of 
God's light. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. 
If you love everything you will perceive the divine mystery in 
things. Once you perceive it you will begin to comprehend it 
better every day. And you will come at last to love the whole 

with an all-embracing love My young brother asked the birds 

to forgive him; that sounds senseless, but it is right, for all is like 
an ocean, all is flowing and blending; a touch in one place sends 
up a movement at the other end of the earth." 12 

This love that binds all men and things together is what Whit- 
man calls adhesiveness — "the love of comrades," as distinct from 
amativeness, which is love in the sense of sexual attraction. In 
celebration of adhesive love he wrote the "Calamus" section of 
Leaves of Grass, which is the counterpart of the amative "Chil- 
dren of Adam." The name "Calamus" is that of a perennial 
marsh plant that sends up its leaves, or flags, in fascicles. The 
symbolism is intricate, but one must understand it in order fully 
to comprehend Whitman's notion of love. The symbolism is 
explained in the poem "Scented Herbage of My Breast." To 
begin with, Whitman equates love and death: "Folded insepara- 
bly together, you love and death are." But it is not death as 
annihilation, which is the aspect of death that Tolstoy and Mann 
associate with sexual love. In a previous line Whitman has said 
that the faint-tinged roots of the calamus make him think of 
death. But the roots are perennial, a symbol of immortality. Out 



98 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

of these roots, over and over again, as the reasons roll by, spring 
the leaves in their fascicles symbolic of the close bond between 
comrades. Whitman says, 

Indeed O death, I think now these leaves mean precisely the same 
as you mean. 13 

The leaves, that is, die away; but the source, the pink-tinged 
perennial roots from which they spring, is eternal. Adhesive 
love similarly springs from eternity, from immortality; love is 
eternal, immortal, though individuals may die. For Whitman, 
just as for Father Zossima, the assurance of immortality rests in 
love ("as you advance in love, you will grow surer of the reality 
of God and of the immortality of your soul" 14 ). To Whitman 
death is the evacuation of the "excrementitious body;" death is 
a release of the soul into immortality. It is with death in this 
sense that Whitman sees love folded inseparably together, for 
death is merely the return of the soul to its source, pure love or 
God. Whitman can, therefore, assure us he will "make death 
exhilarating." 

This is Whitman's purpose in all his great poems on love 
and death. In "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking" the mourn- 
ful song of the bereaved bird and the whisper of the sea both 
reveal to him the beneficence of death in delivering the soul 
back into the immortality of love. In "When Lilacs Last in the 
Dooryard Bloom'd" the hermit thrush sings the same praises of 
death — "death's outlet song of life." Through death will come 
rebirth, resurrection of the spirit. "We know that we have passed 
from death into life, because we love the brethren," says St. John 
(I, 3:14). "He that loveth not his brother, abideth in death." 

The effects of love — in Whitman's and Dostoyevsky's views — 
are at times little short of miraculous, either on individuals or 
on whole societies. And the effects are equally miraculous both 



Love 99 

on those who love and those who are loved. Very close to modern 
medical and religious thought is the comment of Whitman 
about the curative effects of love as he had seen them in the Civil 
War hospitals. "To many of the wounded and sick, especially 
the youngsters, there is something in personal love, caresses, and 
the magnetic flow of sympathy and friendship, that does in its 
way, more than all the medicine in the world. ... [I] could help, 
and turn the balance in favor of cure, by the means here alluded 
to, in a curiously large proportion of cases." 15 

"A man may be saved by loving," wrote Middleton Murry in 
regard to Stavrogin in Dostoyevsky's The Possessed, "but not by 
being loved." 16 The first part of Murry's statement would meet 
with the wholehearted approval of Dostoyevsky and Whitman, 
but the second would not. The chief point made by both writers 
is the Christian one that love begets love and that all love is 
redemptive. Whitman knew this from firsthand experience: 

Full of wickedness I — of many a smutch'd deed reminiscent — of 

worse deeds capable, 
Yet I look composedly upon nature, drink day and night the joys of 

life, and await death with perfect equanimity, 
Because of my tender and boundless love for him I love and because 

of his boundless love for me. 17 

Dostoyevsky in his personal life did not achieve the tender 
compassion that Whitman achieved, or at least not so consist- 
ently. We know he was not incapable of it. One of the men in 
the convict party in which Dostoyevsky was transported to 
Siberia told years later how he was saved from suicide by Dosto- 
yevsky at Tobolsk where they had stopped for six days. "It was 
Dostoyevsky's gentle and sympathetic voice, his sensitiveness, 
his delicacy of feeling, his playful sallies — all this exercised a 
tranquillizing influence on me and I abandoned my desperate 
resolve. Next morning I took leave of Dostoyevsky. . . . We em- 



100 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

braced with tears and we never saw each other again." 18 Dosto- 
yevsky's whole personality, according to this commentator, re- 
vealed itself as feminine and motherly, exactly as we know for a 
certainty Whitman's was. One result of this femininity in both 
authors was an ability to find joy in life even in suffering — an 
ability which may account for the lower incidence of suicides 
among women than among men. 

"Even on this earth it is possible for men to be brothers," says 
Alyosha to Captain Snegiryov, the man whom Dmitri had 
dragged through the streets by his beard. Alyosha is pressing the 
Captain to accept a gift of money, for his son is ill and the family 
is living in fearful poverty. He accepts the money at last but a 
few minutes later throws it onto the ground and stamps on it in 
an outburst of pride. His action is a fine example of the hate re- 
sulting from humiliation, which we have already discussed. 
Snegiryov tortures himself as an act of revenge on society and for 
the masochistic satisfaction he himself derives from it. Before 
rejecting the money he had been picturing to Alyosha all that he 
could do with it: it would enable him to go to another town, 
where he was promised a job, to buy medicine for his son, Ilusha, 
to send his daughter back to the university. Then in a paroxysm 
of hate, directed inward as well as outward, he flings the money 
down, shouting that he won't insult his family by accepting it. 

Can we be brothers on this earth? In spite of the Captain's re- 
fusal to be treated as a brother, Alyosha thinks men can be 
brothers. Thus he sets patiently about healing the spiritual ulcer 
that is destroying the Snegiryov family. His chief medicine is 
love. Ilusha's archenemy has been Kolya Krassotkin, a pre- 
cocious lad, the son of a widow, who is suggestive of what Ivan 
might have been at the age of thirteen. He is smarter than his 
teachers, considers belief in God hopelessly old-fashioned, and 
is a socialist. In short he is a snob, temporarily under the influ- 
ence of the opportunist Rakitin. As the acknowledged leader 



Love 101 

among the boys in Ilusha's school, Kolya was among the first to 
tease Ilusha about his father's humiliation at the hands of 
Dmitri. In a frenzy of anger, Ilusha stabs him with a penknife 
and henceforth the two are mortal enemies. It is a boys' story — 
a boys' feud — but in it Dostoyevsky sees the fester at the base of 
most human hate and the suffering that inevitably grows from 
hate. Alyosha sets about substituting love in the place of this 
hate. To do so he must induce the boys, through their leader 
Kolya, to do some act of love for Ilusha, because Alyosha, like 
his preceptor Father Zossima, knows that love exists only in 
action, not in words. ''My little children, let us not love in word, 
neither in tongue, but in deed and in truth." (I John 3:18) 

In the anger of his hurt pride, as he lashes out at everyone 
and everything around him, Ilusha has fed his dog Zhutchka a 
piece of bread with a pin in it — a trick taught him by Smerdya- 
kov. The dog, of course, ran away yelping, and Ilusha, supposing 
it had died, is heartbroken with remorse. Kolya, however, has 
found the dog unharmed, changed its name, and set about teach- 
ing it a repertoire of fantastic tricks. Kolya, like Ivan, is not 
evil but he is self-centered. He pities Ilusha, perhaps loves him. 
He is willing to make it up with Ilusha, probably because his 
ego cannot tolerate not being liked by everybody. Besides, Ilusha 
has become seriously ill and revenge on a helpless person is not 
to Kolya's taste. It is more impressive to forgive — but to forgive 
with a flourish, with the spotlight trained on the act. Like Mad- 
ame Hohlakov, he must have gratitude for his good deeds, 
not realizing that anyone can be good if he is assured of sufficient 
applause. 

Alyosha exploits this situation. He encourages Kolya to for- 
give Ilusha and to comfort him by returning the dog, over whose 
supposed death Ilusha is grieving. Kolya enters into the project 
with great zest and fanfare. He rallies the boy's school friends 
to his bedside and in their presence gives him a toy cannon, and 



102 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

at last he returns the dog Zhutchka whom he puts through his 
newly learned tricks. At last, under Alyosha's influence, Kolya 
comes to realize that he has been guilty of "conceit, egoistic 
vanity and beastly willfulness" in not coming sooner to Ilusha 
and in going through with his good deed more for the credit it 
would bring to him than for the comfort it would afford his 
stricken playmate. He and Alyosha have a heart-to-heart talk 
which Kolya enthusiastically describes as "a declaration of love," 
adding, "That's not ridiculous, is it?" 

"Not at all ridiculous, and if it were, it would not matter, 
because it's been a good thing," Alyosha answers. 19 And the love 
between these two, and among all the schoolboys as they exert 
themselves to making Ilusha's last days happy, is Whitman's love 
of comrades — "adhesiveness." This comradeship is further ce- 
mented at the funeral of Ilusha, which is described in the last 
pages of the novel. Alyosha's speech to the boys at the stone that 
was Ilusha's favorite place to walk to outside the village is a 
solvent for all human bitterness. 

"Ah, children, ah, dear friends, don't be afraid of life! How good 
life is when one does something good and just!" 

"Yes, yes," the boys repeated enthusiastically. 

"Karamazov, we love you!" a voice cried impulsively. 

"We love you, we love you!" they all caught it up. Tears glistened 
in the eyes of many of them 

"Well, now we will finish talking and go to the funeral dinner. 
Don't be put out at our eating pancakes — it's a very old custom and 
there's something nice in that!" laughed Alyosha. "Well, let us go! 
And now we go, hand in hand!" 

'And always so, all our lives hand in hand! Hurrah for Kara- 
mazov!" Kolya cried once more rapturously and once more the 
boys took up his exclamation. 20 

Far back in the novel Ivan had said: "To my thinking, Christ- 
like love for men is a miracle impossible on earth." He makes 



Love 103 

this remark in answer to an assertion of Alyosha's: "There's a 
great deal of love in mankind and almost Christ-like love, I 
know that myself, Ivan." 21 

The episode of the boys is Dostoyevsky's way of saying that 
the intellectual Ivan is wrong and the intuitive Alyosha is cor- 
rect. "Hurrah for Karamazov!" Hurrah for mankind! Men can 
love one another even on earth. And we add, for the benefit of 
the twentieth century, without homosexuality. 

The emotionalism of Dostoyevsky may seem more acceptable 
to English-speaking readers because as a Russian he has a tradi- 
tion of emotionalism (so the myth goes), but in an American 
or an Englishman such outpourings as those of Dostoyevsky and 
Whitman on the subject of brotherly love are considered in- 
decent. Yet both cultures, not only in our own century but in 
the last, claim to be based on the ideal of the brotherhood of 
man. It is on this common ground only that Dostoyevsky and 
Whitman would admit the possibility of establishing peace. This 
is the ultimate message of each of these great artists — each a 
spokesman for his nation — and what they have to say must not 
be blurred by irrelevancies such as the questions of Whitman's 
sexual orientation and Dostoyevsky's epilepsy. Transcending the 
idiosyncrasies of each is a saving faith in the human race that 
must not be ignored in our times. For if Dostoyevsky and Whit- 
man are wrong — and men are not able to be brothers on earth — 
then humanity is doomed for early extinction. We had better 
be very, very sure of our own rightness before we cross them off 
as mere visionaries or perverts. 

Love to Dostoyevsky and Whitman was the most powerful 
force in the world — more powerful even than hate. Today and 
perhaps always in history, hate has been considered stronger than 
love. It is "safer" for the United States to hate Russia, and 
Russia the United States, for then each will be prepared to de- 
stroy the other. One doesn't prepare for the destruction of diose 



104 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

one loves. Hate to us is a social force; love is sheer weakness. But 
to Dostoyevsky and Whitman love was a social force greater than 
hate. As its extreme, this conviction is expressed by Father 
Zossima. "At some thoughts one stands perplexed, especially 
at the sight of man's sin, and wonders whether one should use 
force or humble love. Always decide to use humble love. If you 
resolve on that once for all, you may subdue the whole world. 
Loving humility is a terrible force, the strongest of all things 
and there is nothing else like it." 22 This is a purely Tolstoyan, a 
pacifist, view, and one that Dostoyevsky could not encompass 
either in his own life or in his political views, for he was irascible 
by nature, and a saber-rattler in regard to such matters as the lib- 
eration of the Balkan Slavs and the colonization of Asia. Yet it 
was his ideal, and it is essentially contained in his view of the 
Russian capacity for love. "Among all the nations the Russian 
soul, the genius of the Russian people is, perhaps, most apt to 
embrace the idea of the universal fellowship of man, of broth- 
erly love, — that sober point of view which forgives that which is 
hostile; which distinguishes and excuses that which is desperate; 
which removes contradictions/' 23 Russia's political mission, he 
thinks, will be to extend the brotherhood of man throughout the 
world as well as within her own expanding borders. "For what 
else is the strength of the Russian national spirit than the aspir- 
ation, in its ultimate goal, for universality and all-embracing hu- 
manitarianism? . . . To become a genuine Russian means to seek 
finally to reconcile all European controversies, to show the solu- 
tion of European anguish in our all-humanitarian and all-unify- 
ing Russian soul, to embrace in it with brotherly love all our 
brethren, and finally, perhaps, to utter the ultimate word of 
great, universal harmony, of the brotherly accord of all nations 
abiding by the laws of Christ's Gospel." 24 This outlook is an 
expression of what historians have called Russian Messianism, 
rife in Dostoyevsky's day and not alien, in modified form, to com- 



Love 105 

munism. But in Dostoyevsky it is a benign aspiration, one for 
domination by the spirit rather than by the sword. The star that 
Dostoyevsky's ardently nationalist monks say will rise in the east 
is not the Red Star of world revolution and class warfare. Rather 
it is the star which rose in Judea two thousand years ago to lead 
the kings to Bethlehem. 

To Whitman love was no less a political force. To heal the 
terrible wounds inflicted on the Union during the Civil War he 
looked exclusively to love. In the poem "The Base of All Meta- 
physics" he states that after a study of all the systems "new and 
antique, the Greek and the Germanic," and after studying long 
"Christ the divine," he sees beneath all philosophies and 
Christian churches one single "base and finale." 

The dear love of man for his comrade, the attraction of friend to 

friend, 
Of the well-married husband and wife, of children and parents, 
Of city for city and land for land. 25 

And in a nation torn by civil war, 

. . . affection shall solve the problems of freedom yet, 
Those who love each other shall become invincible, 
They shall yet make Columbia victorious. . . . 
I, ecstatic, O partners! O lands! with the love of lovers tie you. 
(Were you looking to be held together by lawyers? 
Or by an agreement on a paper? or by arms? 
Nay, nor the world, nor any living thing, will so cohere.) 26 



VI 



LIFE 



Life is grand and so are its environments of Past and Future. Would 
the face of nature be so serene and beautiful if man's destiny were not 
equally so? 

H. D. Thoreau 

"I have a great longing for life," says Ivan Karamazov, "and I 
go on living in spite of logic. Though I may not believe in the 
order of the universe, yet I love the sticky little leaves as they 
open in the spring. I love the blue sky, I love some people, whom 
one loves sometimes without knowing why. I love some great 
deeds done by men " 

And Alyosha answers, "I think every one should love life 
above everything in the world." 

"Love life more than the meaning of it?" 

"Certainly, love it, regardless of logic as you say, it must be 
regardless of logic, and it's only then one will understand it." 1 

This love of life is celebrated throughout Dostoyevsky's writ- 
ings, almost as persistently as in Whitman's verse. Next to love 
of God, love of life is the basic love. In fact, one cannot love God 



Life 107 

or other persons without loving life. The person who loves life 
is a saved person, as the Ancient Mariner is saved the moment 
he blesses the watersnakes. One must love life despite one's suf- 
ferings, despite the evils one sees around one. ''Listen, Kolya," 
Alyosha says, "you will be very unhappy in your life. . . . But 
you will bless life on the whole, all the same." 2 As Innokenti 
remarks in Pasternak's Dr. Zhivago: "It's wonderful to be alive 
but why does it always hurt?" Love of life, despite evil and suffer- 
ing, is of course a fundamental theme in Whitman. In his poem 
"Thanks in Old Age," he gives thanks not only for "Life, mere 
life" and all the good things that go with it — "health, the mid- 
day sun, the impalpable air," but for "the days of war." The 
human body was the supreme wonder for Whitman, but he 
gives tremedous lists of all the other things he has loved; and 
the zest with which he writes these lists puts one in mind of Ivan's 
enthusiasm for "the sticky little leaves," though Whitman's 
appetite for the physical sensations of life is also spiritualized by 
a mysticism suggestive of Father Zossima's when that monk ex- 
horts his listeners to give their love to all of God's creation. 
Whitman succeeds, where Ivan fails, in loving life rather than 
the meaning of it — that is, despite logic. 

When I heard the learn'd astronomer, 

When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me . . . 

How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick, 

Till rising and gliding out I wander'd off by myself, 

In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time 

Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars. . . . 3 

In a similar vein in The Brothers Karamazov Father Paissy 
warns Alyosha against the cruel analysis of science which "has 
only analyzed the parts and overlooked the whole" 4 with a blind- 
ness as "marvelous" as that of Whitman's learned astronomer. 
Both Dostoyevsky and Whitman would agree with the Vedantic 



108 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

viewpoint as described by Erich Fromm: "Thought is only a 
more subtle horizon of ignorance, in fact the most subtle of all 
the deluding devices of Maya." 5 

Analytical science, logic, to both Whitman and Dostoyevsky, 
was destructive of wonder, and without wonder there can be no 
love. Whitman, like Thoreau, made it a point "to wash the 
gum" from his readers' eyes so that they could habit themselves 
"to the dazzle of the light of every moment of [their] life." 6 Life 
must be a perpetual hymn of joy, as it was to Adam at the dawn 
of creation. For life is always the supreme miracle and a miracle 
constantly renewing itself. When one becomes conscious of this 
miracle, as Alyosha does under the stars on the night of his 
beloved elder's death, then one is ready to become a lover of 
mankind. In Dostoyevsky and Whitman the sense of wonder 
is associated with the earth and is felt when one comes into con- 
tact with the earth, either from lying on it, as with Whitman, or 
from kissing it, as with Dostoyevsky. In Dostoyevsky's novels 
love of life is a strength of his regenerated characters. Dmitri will 
sing his hymn of joy even in the salt mines in the midst of his 
penitential suffering. Perhaps more convincing is the case of 
Shatov in The Possessed, who, long a misled revolutionary, has 
been metamorphosed into an ardent lover of mankind. On the 
evening of his murder by his former corevolutionists his wife 
returns after a separation of three years. She arrives immediately 
to go into labor with a child conceived in a union with Shatov's 
archenemy, Stavrogin, a brilliant but totally degenerate noble- 
man into whose family Shatov was born a serf. The birth takes 
place in a squalid room on a back alley close by the dwelling 
of the suicidal psychotic Kirillov. In surroundings of horror the 
baby is born. 

"It is a great joy," Shatov says to the midwife, who is a woman 
of advanced thought. 



Life 109 

"Where does the great joy come in?" 

"The mysterious coming of a new creature, a great and in- 
soluble mystery. . . . There were two, and now there's a third 
human being, a new spirit, finished and complete, unlike the 
handiwork of man; a new thought and a new love . . . it's posi- 
tively frightening and there is nothing grander in the world." 
The midwife answers that there is nothing mysterious about it. 
"It's simply a further development of the organism." 7 The child, 
she maintains, is socially and economically superfluous: better 
if it had not been born, for it will forthwith have to be sent to the 
foundlings' home. If one considers a human baby a mystery one 
would have to consider a fly a mystery — which would be no task 
for Dostoyevsky or for Whitman, who considered a pismire or a 
blade of grass no less a wonder than the "journey work of the 
stars." 

This ecstatic love of life has a modern ring, though its origins 
are deep in the Christian past. It has in fact become closely associ- 
ated with Christianity, as with Pasternak or Schweitzer, or a 
substitute for it, as with Thomas Mann. 

As a dominant symbol in traditional Christianity is a woman, 
the Virgin Mary, so too in the modern life-worship woman is 
often the chief symbol. Whitman writes: 

As I see my soul reflected in Nature, 

As I see through a mist, One with inexpressible completeness, sanity, 

beauty, 
See the bent head and arms folded over the breast, the Female I see. 8 

Sonya in Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment and Grushenka 
after her regeneration through her love for Dmitri are perhaps 
equivalent of Whitman's vision. These women are not mere sex 
symbols. Both Sonya and Grushenka are Mary Magdalene — 
spiritualized whores, embodiments of sex and soul simultane- 
ously. To every man, Freud said, every woman is a potential 



110 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

mother, sister, mistress. Such are Sonya and Grushenka and, 
from the viewpoint of Whitman, women in general; he describes 
them as his sisters and his lovers. In both Dostoyevsky and Whit- 
man woman in her sexual role is a bearer not only of pleasure 
but also of pain, and as such, we have seen, is to be feared and 
even hated, though of course lusted after. But in her other 
roles she is to be tenderly cherished, even worshiped, as Whit- 
man worshiped his mother. The mother role reaches its con- 
summation in Dostoyevsky and Whitman when it is assigned to 
the beloved homeland — Mother Russia and "Thou Mother with 
Thy Equal Brood." The soil itself is to be kissed and embraced 
and clung to, not without oedipal implications. 

We have seen already that in Thomas Mann's work passionate 
love of woman may be merged with love of death, so that sensual 
love and death are one. Yet by one of those paradoxes that Mann 
so liked, love of woman can be transformed to love of life as 
well as of death. In The Magic Mountain the bourgeois hero 
Hans Castorp takes up the study of biology as the result of his 
infatuation with the body of Mme. Chauchat. As a result of his 
study, one Alpine night on the porch of the sanatorium where 
he has sequestered himself from the humdrum life of the flat- 
lands he beholds the all-embracing image of this same Mme. 
Chauchat, who is later to be his mistress for a night. As his affair 
with Mme. Chauchat approaches consummation, his preoccupa- 
tion with death — his actual longing for it — grows and comes to 
be dominant in his life. Only years later this love is switched 
into a love of life and the human race. Almost frozen to death 
he drops into a death sleep during a blizzard on a Swiss moun- 
tainside where he has gone on his skis. In his sleep he dreams of 
the Golden Age, sees a vision of humanity in its pristine beauty 
on the Grecian Archipelago, just as do Dostoyevsky's Ridiculous 
Man and Versilov (in Raw Youth) and Stavrogin. But in the 
midst of Hans's dream of human beauty and joy there is horror 



Life 111 

also: the blood sacrifice performed by hideous hags behind 
the marble columns of the temple that stands above the sea- 
shore where the beautiful children play. Yet it is a good dream, 
and Hans awakes from it dedicated to love of life despite the 
presence of horror and death within the temple. With his love 
of life he loses the last traces of his merely sexual love of Mme. 
Chauchat, his passion for whom had led him so far along the 
paths of death. 

A very recent and impressive example of the use of woman 
as a life symbol occurs in Pasternak's Dr. Zhivago. Lara, a some- 
what sullied woman sexually, like Grushenka or Sonya or Mme. 
Chauchat, becomes for Dr. Zhivago an embodiment of life, 
something that one longs to serve because one loves it. That she 
attracts all sorts — idealist revolutionists, political opportunists, 
or poets like the Doctor himself — attests to her universality. 
Weak, perhaps fickle, yet beautiful and desirable above all 
other things — she is the ultimate that all men strive to corrupt 
or ennoble according to their natures. 

In all these cases sexual love, the destructive force, has led 
into and been spiritualized by a love of life as miracle and as 
divine. The ultimate in this life-worship is the complete infu- 
sion of the divine in man, which is exactly the goal toward which 
Whitman and the American transcendentalists before him were 
heading and which is approached in Dostoyevsky's emphasis 
upon the Godlike potential in all mankind. To Whitman man's 
belief in his own divinity is the sole basis of hope for man's rising 
above his present half-animal, half-divine condition and coming 
into his full heritage as a "son of God." This same notion that 
men are — or can be — "sons of God" has Biblical sanction and 
is a major theme in Dostoyevsky's works. To regard his life, and 
all life, as miraculous and of divine origin is completely in ac- 
cord with Father Zossima's teaching: "If you love everything, 
you will perceive the divine mystery in things." 



112 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

We should look upon God's universe with wonder and love it, 
say Dostoyevsky and Whitman. Both regarded life as a voyage of 
perpetual discovery. In The Idiot Hyppolyte, a youth about to 
die of consumption says; "Oh, you may be perfectly sure that 
if Columbus was happy, it was not after he had discovered Amer- 
ica, but when he was discovering it. What did the New World 
matter after all? Columbus had hardly seen it when he died, and 
in reality he was entirely ignorant of what he had discovered. 
The important thing is life — life and nothing else! What is any 
'discovery' whatever compared with the incessant, eternal dis- 
covery of life?" 9 These could be the words of Whitman, who also 
employed the symbols of voyaging, traveling, exploring to de- 
scribe the miraculous adventure of life. In his "Prayer of Colum- 
bus" he speaks through the mouth of the great navigator, who 
doesn't even mention the feat for which he was famous but 
rather, in his old age, gives thanks for the gift of life which God 

hast lighted 
With ray of light, steady, ineffable. 10 

In his "Song of the Open Road" and in "Pioneers, O Pioneers" 
Whitman celebrates life as spiritual wayfaring and migration 
into new and wonderful territories of the soul. And in one of 
his greatest lyrics, "Passage to India," he sees in the engineering 
achievements of the times — the transcontinental railroad, the 
Atlantic cable, the Suez Canal — symbols of the advance of man 
into universal brotherhood and back to that spiritual realm, 
India, "the land of budding Bibles," where man's spiritual life 
originated and whither it is man's destiny to return. 

O soul, repressless, I with thee and thou with me, 
Thy circumnavigation of the world begin, 
Of man, the voyage of his mind's return 
To reason's early paradise. 



Life 113 

Back, back to wisdom's birth, to innocent intuitions, 
Again with fair creation. 11 

What awaits the explorer at the end of his voyage of dis- 
covery? Truth, of course, truth of the brotherhood of man, of 
the beauty of life, of the supremacy of the soul. In his great short 
story, "The Dream of a Ridiculous Man," Dostoyevsky also 
describes a voyage, this one of a type that man is, in our times, 
literally on the verge of making, a voyage into outer space. The 
Ridiculous Man — ridiculous because his convictions are so con- 
trary to the accepted beliefs of his day — dreams he travels to 
some distant world where the inhabitants live in harmony, 
brotherhood, simplicity and fearlessness even of death. The 
arrival of the earthman brings disharmony and moral degrada- 
tion into this paradise, and one wonders when man actually 
moves out into space if he will carry his depravity with him. 
But the important thing is the Ridiculous Man's vision of this 
society before it is contaminated by his arrival. It is a Whitman- 
esque vision of all men attuned to one feeling — the love of 
comrades. When he awakes the Ridiculous Man is a dedicated 
man who assumes the role of poet-preacher, like Dostoyevsky 
and Whitman. To this end alone he longs to live. "I am going to 
preach. I want to preach. What? Why, truth. For I've beheld the 
truth, I have beheld it with my own eyes, I have beheld it in all 
its glory." And this truth is simply "that people can be happy 
and beautiful without losing the ability to live on earth." It is 
a denial of the belief "that evil is the normal condition among 
men." It is a denial of the blighting heresy of the intellectual 
that "the consciousness of life is higher than life, the knowledge 
of happiness is higher than happiness." It is an affirmation that 
"the main thing is to love your neighbor as yourself — that is 
the main thing, and that is everything, for nothing else mat- 



114 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

ters." 12 This is none other than God's purpose for man, as Whit- 
man says in "Passage to India": 

The earth is to be spann'd, connected by network, 
The races, neighbors, to marry and be given in marriage, 
The oceans to be cross'd, the distant brought near, 
The lands to be welded together. 13 

This is the end of all spiritual exploration, the wonder of 
wonders of life — a dream that even the most depraved of men, 
even Stavrogin in Dostoyevsky's The Possessed has dreamed. 
"Oh, marvelous dream, lofty illusion! The most improbable of 
all visions, to which mankind throughout its existence has given 
its best energies, for which it has sacrificed, for which it has 
pined and been tormented, for which its prophets were crucified 
and killed, without which nations will not desire to live, and 
without which they cannot even die!" 14 






VII 



THE NEW MAN 



Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. 

John 3:7 

Both Russians and Americans in the nineteenth century were 
convinced their countries would produce new men, new soci- 
eties. In the United States the idea, or hope, may be traced at 
least as far back as Crevecoeur, who wrote during and right 
after the Revolution. In his essay ''What Is an American?" he 
delineates a representative individual radically different from 
any that ever existed in Europe. This "new man," the American, 
was of a racial stock so mixed that it actually constituted a new 
race. The individual himself was independent in his views, 
was the holder of substantial property, usually land, to an extent 
undreamed of in Europe, was in general a freer and superior 
human being. Herein American humanity seemed to have been 
born anew in a better, a new world. 

This idea was commonly accepted on both sides of the 
Atlantic. It was basic in Jefferson's distinction between a natural 
and an artificial aristocracy. It found one of its most popular 
expressions in Fenimore Cooper's character Natty Bumppo, 



116 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

variously known as the Deerslayer, Hawkeye or Leatherstocking. 
Bumppo was a true son of the wilderness, unlettered but natu- 
rally wise and good, and very shrewd. Subservient to nobody, 
he was a supporter of justice and the worshiper of a pantheistic 
nature God. Like those of Crevecoeur's American, Natty 's 
spiritual, physical, and intellectual specifications had been laid 
down by Rousseau in the eighteenth century. Like Tolstoy's 
and Dostoyevsky's Russian peasants, these Americans were true 
sons of nature, "natural men." The shadow of Rousseau — or 
his light — lay across the nineteenth century and has extended 
into our own times. 

The American's image of himself as different from and 
superior to the European was of course a political force, which 
rose to a frenzied climax in the presidency of Andrew Jackson. 
In literature the new American appeared in multitudes. One 
of the most painstaking portraits of him was that drawn by 
Whitman in Democratic Vistas, but Whitman's was a man of 
the future, existing thus far only in embryo. We will shortly 
examine him in detail. Preceding Whitman's vision of the 
American of the future was that of the Concord Transcendental- 
ists, Thoreau and Emerson, whose influence on Whitman was 
great. The self-reliant man, spiritual rather than materialistic 
in his orientation, sloughing off the encrustations of the dead 
forms of dead cultures and emerging in the sheen of his newborn 
humanity — that was the image conjured by Emerson, and espe- 
cially by Thoreau in his depiction of himself leading a life of 
physical simplicity but of spiritual profundity at Walden Pond. 
To use a phrase of Henry James, Senior, in his famous "Newport 
Address," the ultimate fruit of American democracy would be 
"man himself unqualified by convention." 

The most subtly drawn of the New Americans are those in 
Henry James, Junior's, novels, and perhaps the most typical of 
these is the hero of The American, whose name by no coinci- 



The New Man 117 

dence is Christopher Newman! Armored in kindliness, simplic- 
ity, intelligence, shrewdness, innocence, and an impeccable mo- 
rality, Newman travels to Europe at the age of thirty-five or forty 
to enjoy his hard but honestly earned fortune and to find a wife. 
Whitman would have appreciated the fact that this American 
of Americans was a veteran of the Civil War and a resident of 
San Francisco, for the West in Whitman's view would be the 
natural habitat of the New America. Newman courts and wins 
the beautiful Madame de Cintre, the widowed daughter of an 
ancient, proud, and corrupt French noble family. But Mme. de 
Cintre is under the domination of her relatives. Having prom- 
ised her hand to Newman, she is forced by her mother and 
brother to withdraw it. In a surge of anger Newman looks about 
him for a means of vengeance and of forcing the family to accept 
him, and in doing so he runs afoul of feudalism in its most 
degenerate form. He uncovers a murder in the family, thus 
putting himself in a position to get his revenge. But Newman 
rises above such selfishness. The woman he had hoped to marry 
has fled to a convent in desperation and Newman, having irre- 
trievably lost her, burns the document whereby he could prove 
the murder. The natural aristocracy of his character keeps him 
from lowering himself to the level of the artificial aristocrats. 
Newman is indeed "man unqualified by convention," as is 
beautifully demonstrated in the contrast between him and 
Valentine, the younger son of the family into which Newman 
had hoped to marry. Valentine is essentially a good man — loyal, 
honest, affectionate, a true comrade. Yet he is so shackled by 
convention that he feels compelled to fight a duel over a whore 
and is futilely killed as a consequence. Similarly, Newman's 
fiancee, though essentially a loving and honest woman, cannot 
sufficiently free herself from an outworn code of behavior to 
marry a good man whom she loves. 

Even more significant to James is the contrast between Amer- 



118 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

ican and European women. His novels are full of ''new women," 
young ones usually, who are marked by an innocent unconven- 
tionality — in other words, a naturalness — which carries them 
triumphantly through the perils of a less idealistic European 
society. Even when they are defeated by the older society their 
defeat constitutes a moral victory. Such is the case with Daisy 
Miller, James's most popular heroine. Slightly "vulgar," but 
appallingly honest and totally innocent, Daisy refuses to sub- 
mit to pointless European attitudes and conventions. She flirts 
with a nondescript Italian, thus destroying her social standing 
in the American and British society in Rome. But the flirtation 
is at worst a protest against the stuffiness of a Europeanized 
American whom she loves and who loves her but is too priggish 
to admit, even to himself, his love for a girl that Society frowns 
upon. When Daisy dies of "Roman fever" after a nocturnal 
visit to the Colosseum with her Italian beau, it is a hollow 
triumph for convention, since she wears the crown of a martyr. 

The ideal of a new, democratic humanity faded in American 
literature in the twentieth century. In place of the Newmans 
and the Daisies there arose a horde of Sister Carries and Babbitts, 
mere automatons jumping to the dictates of glands and conven- 
tions. Abroad, too, the illusion, if it was that, faded, giving 
place to an image of the American as a crass unimaginative 
materialist. Even a new land couldn't produce a new man, and 
Americans were, if anything, a bit worse than Europeans. This, 
too, was a symptom of humanity's loss of faith in itself along with 
its faith in God. Henceforth mankind seemed satisfied to be 
assigned a place in the universe as simply a rather complicated 
biochemical reaction. Nowhere on earth was it generally hoped 
that man could rise above the old fettering forms and traditions, 
because man was no longer deemed capable of re-creating him- 
self, anywhere, any more than a machine. 

In Russia, also, in the nineteenth century an ideal of the new 



The New Man 11 9 

man was taking shape, though perhaps a much less likable one 
than the new man of America. In Russia, however, the new 
man was also one who had stripped himself of conventions and 
stood in all his dignity and potency as an untrammeled human 
being. But the Russians had the misfortune to live in a reac- 
tionary, unyielding social order, suffocated by forms and con- 
ventions, whereas America was at the time, by European stand- 
ards, a mildly revolutionary society. Thus the American, theore- 
tically, had merely to be himself, for his political and social 
ideals supported him in his revolt against obsolete customs. But 
the Russian was perforce a revolutionary, a nihilist, who must 
defy and destroy the old culture before he could free himself and 
his countrymen for a new life. 

The Russian new man in his most exaggerated and unbeliev- 
able form is exemplified by a character named Rakhmetov in a 
very popular nineteenth-century novel, What Is To Be Done? 
by Chernyshevsky. Rakhmetov is a "rigorist," a political radical, 
who has cut his life clear of all personal, sentimental entangle- 
ments and has devoted himself to the one goal of liberating man- 
kind from the old order. In his own way he is as incredible as 
Natty Bumppo — an impossible result of a severing of all ties 
of custom and tradition. Rakhmetov has schooled himself in a 
regime of self-discipline that involves such practices as sleeping 
on a bed of nails. He is the revolutionary ascetic, man in the raw, 
unspoiled by society, finding his sole purpose in the one ser- 
vice that matters, the betterment of mankind. Fantastic though 
Rakhmetov may be, his example was taken very seriously by 
such real-life revolutionaries as Lenin and Dmitrov (an instiga- 
tor of the Reichstag fire in Hitlerite Germany). Both of these 
eminents claim to have modeled their lives after Chernyshev- 
sky's "rigorist." In Soviet literature Rakhmetov has been dupli- 
cated countless times. A very remarkable instance is Pasha 
Antipov in Dr. Zhivago — a character who has gone to such 



120 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

extremes in molding and twisting himself to an ideal that he 
rejects not only family but, as a suicide, life itself. 

Pasternak's portrayal of the revolutionary new man was un- 
favorably critical, but he was far from the first to take this stand. 
Turgenev's novels contains a number of new men and women, 
none of whom are entirely admirable. Best known of them is 
Bazarov in Fathers and Sons. Turgenev himself couldn't decide 
just how he felt about his ''nihilist" Bazarov (the term "nihilist" 
had its origin in this book). Turgenev was a Westernizer in 
favor of fairly far-reaching reforms, but he was far from a revolu- 
tionary. He could sympathize with Bazarov' s desire for change 
but not with his attempted self-dehumanization. Thus when 
Bazarov, an enthusiastic scientist, states that the study of frogs is 
as important as the study of people, or that humanity is like a 
birch forest in that if you study one tree or person you know 
them all, so negligible are the differences between individual 
trees or people — here Turgenev obviously shies off. He is loath 
to see humanity lose spiritual status. Thus, almost vengefully, 
Turgenev causes his hero to lose his battle against his own 
humanity. Though Bazarov's pose is that he is above all such 
human "weaknesses" as anger and love, in the course of the 
book he almost strangles his best friend in a murderous rage, 
fights a duel with an elderly gentleman, and succumbs to senti- 
mental love, which he tried unsuccessfully to treat as a mere 
biological urge and which sidetracks him seriously from his 
single purpose of remaking mankind. Finally he falls prey to 
that greatest of human frailties, death, which in his frustration 
he seems willfully to seek. 

Turgenev has created a few strong-willed nihilist women who 
almost achieve their impossible goals of dehumanizing them- 
selves, but most of his would-be new men are failures. The one 
notable exception is Solomin, a factory manager, in Virgin Soil. 
After several reforming zealots have been arrested and one has 



The New Man 121 

killed himself as a result of his total failure to establish contact 
with the peasants, Solomin remains as a man of moderation and 
understanding. He, too, earnestly desires reform, but he has been 
able to accomplish much already without resort to fantasy or 
extremism. His own factory has instituted peasant schools and 
maintained reasonably humane working conditions. A peasant 
himself, he is practical, level-headed, conscientious. He is a man 
of the people who has the sympathy and the ability to help the 
people — but it will all take time. 

Turgenev's point is: character, not theory, is what is needed 
for the social betterment of Russia. Tolstoy would agree. His 
character Levin, who is the real hero oiAnna Karenina and who 
is Tolstoy himself in very transparent disguise, is as distrustful 
as Solomin of reforms that have their roots not in the hearts of 
the people but in the minds of Westernized intellectuals. Levin 
moves slowly but firmly toward real social amelioration. He 
doesn't force his own personality into any "rigor is t" mold or 
fight against his own humanity, but rather remains himself — 
an altruistic and conscientious nobleman who strives for a grad- 
ual, not convulsive, change in Russian society. Reform is 
necessary; all men of good will desire it. Tolstoy says that 
Nekhludov, the hero of Resurrection, had a sense "of the beauty 
and importance of life, and man's serious place in it; [youth] 
sees the possibility of infinite perfection of which the world is 
capable." 1 But Nekhludov, also, is an evolutionist rather than a 
revolutionist. His achievement of stature as a humanitarian 
comes only after spiritual rather than intellectual growth. To 
Tolstoy as to Turgenev the fountainhead of significant reform 
is the heart, the character, and not the mind. 

Out of the spirit of the times in Russia and America — and 
indeed of the nineteenth century throughout the West — Whit- 
man and Dostoyevsky shaped their own images of the new man. 



122 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

For both, the new man was not an exceptional but an ordinary 
person who can be duplicated in the masses. The concept of the 
superman is foreign to both. Whitman very concretely sets 
down his specifications in Democratic Vistas. To begin with, 
Whitman conceives of the new man as a being of the future; 
with the exception of Lincoln he is nonexistent in nineteenth- 
century America. "Are there indeed men here worthy of the 
name? Are there athletes? Are there perfect women, to match 
the generous material luxuriance? Is there a pervading atmos- 
phere of beautiful manners? Are there crops of fine youths, and 
majestic old persons? . . . Confess that to severe eyes, using the 
moral microscope upon humanity, a sort of dry and flat Sahara 
appears, these cities, crowded with petty grotesques, malforma- 
tions, phantoms, playing meaningless antics. Confess that every- 
where, in shop, street, church, theatre, bar-room, official chair, 
are pervading flippancy and vulgarity, low cunning, infidelity — 
everywhere the youth puny, impudent, foppish, prematurely 
ripe — everywhere an abnormal libidinousness, unhealthy forms, 
male, female, padded, painted, dyed, chignon'd, muddy com- 
plexions, bad blood. . . ." 2 The picture is "lamentable," as 
Whitman says. Yet it is from this unpromising material that the 
new American must be fashioned, for only "the average man 
of a land at last is important." 3 Whitman's hope for the future 
arises from his Civil War experiences, which gave him inklings 
of the magnificent potential of the American common man — 
especially those from the rural North — for self-sacrifice, devo- 
tion, and idealism. 

The character of the new American must have its foundation 
in that profound and intuitive religious mysticism, which Whit- 
man, in a passage already quoted, describes as "the thought of 
identity — yours for you, whoever you are, as mine for me. 
Miracle of miracles, beyond statement, most spiritual and 
vaguest of earth's dreams, yet hardest basic fact." From this 



The New Man 123 

"hardest basic fact," which is that of man's divine origin, Whit- 
man never strayed in any of his thinking. Upon this spiritual 
foundation the modern personality must be constructed. "Be- 
yond the vertebration of the manly and womanly personalism of 
our Western world, can only be, and is, indeed, to be (I hope) 
its all-penetrating Religiousness." 4 

Whitman now proceeds to give "however crudely, a basic 
model or portrait of personality for general use for the manliness 
of the States." As always, Whitman emphasizes in this model 
the physical as emblematic of the spiritual. The new humanity 
must possess strong, healthy, and beautiful bodies — "a general 
presence that holds its own in the company of the highest." For 
a healthy personality cannot inhabit an unhealthy body, and "it 
is native personality, and that alone, that endows a man to stand 
before presidents or generals, or in any distinguish'd collection, 
with aplomb — and not culture, or any knowledge or intellect 
whatever." Thus when he goes on to consider the "mental- 
educational part of our model, enlargement of intellect, stores 
of cephalic knowledge," Whitman finds no improvement neces- 
sary. In fact, he hints that we are perhaps already overdoing 
bookish education. Personality is a function of the spirit rather 
than the intellect. Much more important than the intellect is 
the "simple, unsophisticated Conscience, the primary moral 
element." This element he finds stunted dangerously in "our 
triumphant modern civilizee, with his all-schooling and his 
wondrous appliances." 5 Conscience is part of the religiousness 
that Whitman considers indispensable to perfect selfhood; con- 
science is a function of "the identified soul." Whitman, like 
Dostoyevsky, always regards morality, conscience, as an absolute, 
its basic law being that of love of neighbor, the Golden Rule. 
Conscience exists outside space and time, and is in no way 
relative from century to century, tribe to tribe, or nation to 
nation. 



124 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

Whitman draws up specifications for a new woman to replace 
the imported literary models — "Ophelias, Enids, princesses, or 
ladies of one thing or another, [who] fill the envying dreams of 
so many poor girls, and are accepted by our men, too, as supreme 
ideals of feminine excellence to be sought after." To clear "this 
fossil and unhealthy air which hangs about the word lady" he 
presents some women of his own acquaintance — "just for a 
change," as he says. These women, taken from real life as 
examples of the future, are of limited education, robust health, 
pronounced independence, wide resourcefulness, dedicated 
motherhood. They are women of the people, unsophisticated but 
living in an aura of "that indescribable perfume of genuine 
womanhood." As for women's rights, a burning question of the 
day, Whitman is unconcerned. The women he presents already 
enjoy a limitless scope of activity which is theirs for the asking, 
irrespective of social legislation. Most important, "we must 
recast the types of highest personality from what the oriental, 
feudal ecclesiastical worlds bequeathed us. . . . Of course, the 
old undying elements remain. The task is to successfully adjust 
them to new combinations, our own days . . . cease to recognize 
a theory of character grown of feudal aristocracies, or form'd 
by merely literary standards, or from any ultramarine, full-dress 
formulas of culture. . . ." The future American man or woman 
must be constructed anew out of the fundamental spiritual and 
material elements of human nature. The artificialities of other 
lands and centuries must be discarded. "Ever the fresh breeze 
of field, or hill, or lake, is more than any palpitation of fans, 
though of ivory, and redolent with perfume." 6 

The people are always of first importance to Whitman, but he 
recognizes that they must have leaders. These will be the poets, 
who will be not only the leaders but the servants of the people. 
Further, the poet would replace the priest, would assume the 
roll of prophet, and would reject the tricks and subjects of 



The New Man 125 

fashionable rhymesters of the day. In his "Preface" to the 1855 
edition of Leaves of Grass, Whitman lists at great length the 
qualifications of the new poet. He must regard the United States 
as the greatest poem and he must accept the common people as 
his audience, his readers. Elite readerships and recherche sub- 
ject matter from ancient mythologies and alien cultures must 
have no place in his poetry. The poet himself must have traveled 
far and wide among the States and must be acquainted with all 
manner of men. The requisite life for the poet is that all- 
inclusive one what Whitman himself experienced in the War 
hospitals, in his travels to New Orleans and the Far West, in his 
fraternizing with ferryboat pilots and teamsters. "Literature, 
strictly consider'd, has never recognized the People, and, what- 
ever may be said, does not today. ... I know of nothing more 
rare [in literature], even in this country, than a fit scientific 
estimate and reverent appreciation of the People — of their 
measureless wealth of latent power and capacity, their vast 
artistic contrasts of lights and shades. . . ." 7 The reason for this 
is the isolation of the intellectuals from the masses. "Of all 
dangers to a nation, as things exist in our day, there can be no 
greater one than having certain portions of the people set off 
from the rest. . . ." 8 Literature, if segregated, is useless or even 
harmful. But once the poet has achieved solidarity with the 
people his influence will become almost limitless. "He is the 
equalizer of his age and land ... he supplies what wants supply- 
ing and checks what wants checking. If peace is the routine, out 
of him speaks the spirit of peace. ... In war he is the most deadly 
force of the war." 9 He is a seer, he is a man of limitless faith, he 
is the greatest of lovers, he is the champion of liberty, the candid 
recorder of life, the enemy of materialism, the mouthpiece of 
the present. As an artist he is an originator of new forms and 
techniques, functioning not by formula or imitation but by 



126 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

inspiration as the channel whereby the spiritual flows into and 
transforms matter. 



Dostoyevsky has also created a new man, but one in sharp 
contrast to that of the radical writers of Russia in his day, such 
as Chernyshevsky. He felt so strongly against these fanatical, 
dehumanized heroes — "leather men in leather jackets" — that 
he fashioned several important characters in his novels in their 
likeness in order to expose their weakness and their inhumanity. 
Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment is one of these. His rejec- 
tion of conscience, of the distinction between right and wrong as 
outworn superstition, and his motivation in the murder by the 
desire to aid humanity are earmarks of the new man, the 
nihilist, who feels he must destroy before he can build anew. As 
a rationalist of very superior intellect, Raskolnikov believes he 
is justified in flouting the Judaeo-Christian morality of others. 
In short, he is a pre-Nietzschean superman, self-appointed as 
all supermen must be, creating a new code of conduct for his 
sole guidance — and all with the questionable purpose of im- 
proving God's arrangement of things. Like Bazarov, Raskol- 
nikov fails, but for more complex reasons. Bazarov succumbs to 
such human emotions as anger, passionate love, and despair, 
and is destroyed by them, Raskolnikov succumbs to conscience, 
which despite his "realism" he is unable to suppress. His whole 
project — to murder a pawnbroker and steal her money to finance 
his preparation to serve mankind — collapses in spite of the 
vigorous defense of his reason, which tells him the slaughter of 
a parasite, and even of her harmless but stupid sister, is a small 
price for the human race to pay for the great things that Raskol- 
nikov will inevitably do. The novel, with great psychological 
subtlety, records Raskolnikov's undermining of his own intel- 
lectual stand. Slowly he regains his humanity, confesses his guilt, 



The New Man 127 

and goes to Siberia with the meek and saintly prostitute Sonya 
who has guided him along the path to redemption. 

A more hardened and violent version of the new man is Pyotr 
Verhovensky in The Possessed. Pyotr is the son, neglected in 
childhood, of a flabby liberal — a "parlor pink," as we would 
now call him, or a "superfluous man" as the Russians in the 
nineteenth century called such ineffectual. Pyotr reacts bitterly 
against his father's limpness and molds himself into a brutal, 
incredibly rude bully in whom the destructive impulse is so 
great that it has apparently extinguished the desire to help the 
downtrodden masses, an ideal of most of the new men. The 
social program that will develop from his activities will, accord- 
ing to his corevolutionist Shigalov, entail the slaughter of a 
hundred million people and the employment of every citizen as 
a spy against every other. As a prelude to destruction, Pyotr 
starts a riot, instigates several murders, and is responsible for 
the burning of half the town that he has chosen for his activities. 
With these accomplishments to his credit he departs for other 
scenes of nihilistic endeavor. 

Another of Dostoyevsky's unfavorable presentations of the 
new man is Kirillov, also in The Possessed. Kirillov ijs perhaps 
modeled after a Russian radical and literary of Dostoyevsky's 
time — N. A. Dobrolyubov, who considered suicide the supreme 
act of protest when all other attempts failed to reform mankind. 
Kirillov, like Dobrolyubov, was of course an atheist. According 
to Kirillov, humanity persists in believing in God solely because 
of fear of death. Unless the fear of death can be rooted out of 
the human psyche, man will continue to believe in God and 
hence will not be entirely free. The nihilist wishes to erase all 
vestiges of man's bondage. Thus the fear of death must be 
eliminated and suicide, in Kirillov's logic, is the way of eliminat- 
ing it. Taking his own life, a man asserts his total freedom and 
establishes himself as a god — a man-god — the sole free agent in 



128 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

the universe. The logic is insane, yes, but so, in Dostoyevsky's 
thinking, were the new men. 

These characters all fanatics obsessed with the desire to 
reform the world. That they destroy themselves or the people 
they hope to help is to Dostoyevsky the inevitable outcome, for 
fanaticism dehumanizes the heart, drives out compassion and 
love. Dehumanized persons can do nothing but harm to their 
fellow men. Whitman, too, shared this view regarding fanati- 
cism, especially that of the extreme abolitionists of the Garrison 
or John Brown type. Whitman was opposed to slavery, just as 
Dostoyevsky was to the animalizing of the peasants in Russia. 
Yet he would agree that the way to reform is through love, not 
hate, the chief tool of the fanatics. The ruthless destructiveness 
of the more violent abolitionists was in fact suggestive of Pyotr 
Verhovensky. They were men who would destroy the Union and 
bring the calamity of war upon all the people, and all in the 
name of reform. In an editorial, Whitman writes that the 
Brooklyn Eagle despises and condemns "the dangerous fanatical 
insanity of 'Abolitionism' — as impracticable as it is wild." 10 And 
he elsewhere asserts that "the mad fanaticism or ranting of the 
ultra 'Abolitionists' . . . has done far more harm than good to 
the very cause it professed to aid." 11 A man may still have 
"notions of liberty [without] setting at defiance all discretion, 
the settled laws of the land, the guaranteed power of citizens, 
and so on." 12 

The nineteenth century was a century of reforms. The 
tragedy is that these reforms at times got out of hand and brought 
vast calamities upon humanity. Moderation on the part of the 
abolitionists might have averted the Civil War. A degree of 
tractability on the part of the Russian radicals might have saved 
Russia from the hell of two revolutions and a civil war. At least 
Dostoyevsky and Whitman were of that opinion, and in agree- 
ment with them is Hawthorne, who condemned all fanaticism 



The New Man 129 

as alienating the human heart, isolating it from the heart of the 
rest of humanity. Hawthorne's religious bigots who hang Quak- 
ers and witches in the name of Christianity are as dehumanized 
as the radicals in The Possessed. So are Hawthorne's nineteenth- 
century social reformers, Zenobia and Hollingsworth in Blithe- 
dale Romance, who are possessed by the monomania that prison 
reform will usher in the millennium. Hollingsworth and 
Zenobia do not murder people and set fire to towns; but Zenobia 
is a suicide, and both she and Hollingsworth poison the lives of 
most people who come within their sphere. But most serious — 
and it's exactly the accusation Dostoyevsky brings against the 
new men — is that in their zeal to help mankind they have come 
to despise mankind. "Do you despise or respect mankind, you, 
its coming saviours?" Dostoyevsky asked. Hollingsworth unques- 
tionably despised it. "Mankind in Hollingsworth's opinion," 
thinks the narrator of Blithedale Romance, "is but another yoke 
of oxen, as stubborn, stupid, and sluggish. . . . He vituperates 
us aloud, and curses us in his heart, and will begin to prick us 
with the goadstick by and by. But are we his oxen? And what 
right has he to be our driver. . . ?" 13 The violent reformer must 
of necessity hate mankind. Did he love them, he would be less 
eager to make them over into his own image at the expense 
perhaps of a hundred million of their lives. 

Dostoyevsky angrily discards the radicals' concept of the new 
man as a hope for humanity, but he does not leave vacant the 
place occupied by him. He very carefully creates the image of a 
new human being who achieves happiness and beauty for all 
men by achieving happiness and beauty for himself first, but 
this new man is the diametric opposite of that molded by the 
rationalists. "The meek shall inherit the earth," says Jesus. 
Dostoyevsky takes this precept very seriously. The new man will 
be a meek man, not a rebel, nor a bully, nor a denier, nor a 
destroyer. The new man of the radicals is a self-willed man, the 



130 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

opposite of the meek. Among Dostoyevsky' s meek characters are 
Sonya in Crime and Punishment, Prince Myshkin in The Idiot, 
and Alyosha in The Brothers Karamazov. Dostoyevsky has been 
reviled by liberals and radicals the world over for his rejection of 
action in favor of passivity. Meekness is now out-of-date, as 
perhaps it has always been, especially in rationalist societies. 
The traditional Christian virtue of humility has been preserved, 
if at all, only in the Orthodox and Catholic churches and in 
several numerically small, but spiritually extremely important, 
Protestant "Peace Sects," like the Society of Friends. Meekness 
and the "Social Gospel" are incompatible. 

Yet by meekness Dostoyevsky does not mean the supineness 
that his critics assume him to mean. Mere moral flaccidity he 
reserves for such liberal dreamers as Stepan Verhovensky, whom 
he holds in considerable contempt. His meek characters are al- 
ways active and positive, not mere negations. They struggle with- 
out rest to help their fellow men, not to rebel but to achieve the 
joy of inner harmony, to release the redemptive energies of love 
within themselves — the most difficult and the most indispens- 
able goal humanity can set itself. We have seen the influence 
exerted by Alyosha over the boys. We should remember also 
how Alyosha is a factor in leading Dmitri from self-willfulness 
to a regenerative love of humanity, and we should recall how 
quieting an influence his mere presence is to such tempestuous 
souls as Lise, Ivan, and the old Karamazov. Alyosha is the busiest 
character in the whole novel, a worker in every sense of the word. 
Similarly, Sonya's part in the spiritual rebirth of Raskolnikov 
and Prince Myshkin's struggle, even though ultimately unsuc- 
cessful, are examples of anything but sloth or passivity. People 
like these are absolutely necessary to humanity, in or out of 
novels, in all ages and all societies whether capitalist, communist, 
or democratic — they are the salt of the earth, selfless, devoted 
and joyous, and all except the completely lost respond to them 



The New Man 131 

with love and long, in their deepest beings, to be like them in 
their joyous acceptance of life. 

Dostoyevsky, like Whitman, has fashioned his new men and 
women out of rudimentary soul-stuff. Basic is a deep religious- 
ness, as are a sense of the brotherhood of men and a feeling of 
oneness with the soil. The resemblance carries over into physical 
and mental characteristics. For example, Alyosha is "well-grown, 
red-cheeked, clear-eyed, radiant with health" 14 — a real brother 
of Whitman's ideal American. He is not overly intellectual, for 
Dostoyevsky writes approvingly: "He was always one of the best 
in the class but was never first." 15 He stands in contrast to Ivan, 
who was always first in school but whose brilliant mind is de- 
scribed by Dmitri as "a tomb." For Alyosha has the gift of love 
and Ivan has not. "I never could understand how one can love 
one's neighbors," 16 says Ivan. Without love Ivan's mind becomes 
a tomb, a receptacle of dead things, for only in love is there life. 

Alyosha was good-tempered, modest, and chaste. Most im- 
portant of all, "he was fond of people; he seemed throughout 
his life to put implicit trust in people." 17 Corollary to his trust in 
people was a trust in himself, a self-sufficiency or self-reliance 
that would gladden the heart of Whitman or Emerson. He 
shrank from no situation, always conducted himself with sim- 
plicity and frankness, and was unassailable in his religious con- 
victions. As a result he was accepted by all and never knew a 
moment's insecurity. "Here is perhaps the one man in the world 
whom you might leave alone without a penny, in the center of 
an unknown city of a million inhabitants, and he would not 
come to harm . . . for he would be fed and sheltered at once . . . 
and to shelter him would not be a burden but would probably 
be looked upon as a pleasure." 18 

Prince Myshkin, an epileptic, lacks the health of Alyosha 
and hence deviates from the Whitman concept of the perfect 
human being. In fact, Dostoyevsky does not consider health 



132 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

indispensable to spirituality; sickness in some of his characters, 
notably Myshkin, seems to enhance spiritual sensitivity. In 
other respects Myshkin with his unintellectuality, his love of peo- 
ple and his attraction of others' love closely resembles Alyosha. 
Indeed, were his health stronger he would undoubtedly have 
accomplished more, perhaps as much as Alyosha. It is significant 
that Dostoyevsky endowed the last of his meek characters "with 
radiant health." 

Dostoyevsky's new women are less versatile than Whitman's. 
They may be prostitutes, like Sonya, but if so their aberration is 
the result of great compassion, like Sonya's willingness to sacri- 
fice her chastity for the support of her impoverished family. 
Sexual passion is definitely not a motive for their way of life. 
Sonya, like the prostitute in Notes from Underground, is above 
all motherly — as, predominantly, are Whitman's model women. 
Also, Sonya is strong-willed, stronger than Raskolnikov, who, 
through her seemingly timid but actually insistent guidance, 
finds the way out of the hell his two murders have made of his 
inner life. Like Whitman, Dostoyevsky did not consider the 
"emancipated," intellectual girls of his time fit models for 
womanhood either present or future. Whitman would, however, 
unenthusiastically allow his women some activity outside the 
area of motherhood and housekeeping. "The day is coming 
when [women's place amid] practical life, politics, the suffrage, 
etc., will not only be argued all around us, but may be put to 
decision, and real experiment." 19 The day had already come in 
Russia, and Dostoyevsky had burned himself on one of the prod- 
ucts of the "experiment" — Polina Suslova, who became the 
model of all the Katerinas and Lizavetas, the self-willed, emanci- 
pated, "infernal" women of his novels. 

The new American man or woman of Whitman was to be free 
of any connection with organized religion, though he was to be 
deeply religious: "Religion, although casually arrested, and, 



The New Man 133 

after a fashion, preserv'd, in the churches and creeds, does not 
depend at all upon them, but is a part of the identified soul, 
which, when greatest, knows not bibles in the old way, but in 
new ways — the identified soul which can really confront religion 
when it extricates itself entirely from churches, and not be- 
fore." 20 Dostoyevsky would endorse the idea of the identified 
soul as being the regenerate, or reborn, and hence the "new," 
soul. The "identity," for Dostoyevsky as for Whitman, is a reali- 
zation of oneness with God and humanity — a sense of one's be- 
ing in its most universal relationships. But for Dostoyevsky the 
indispensable religiousness of a regenerate humanity would not 
be divorced from the church. The difference between Whitman 
and Dostoyevsky here is broad and perhaps unbridgeable, 
though the end human results that each envisions are remark- 
ably similar. The church, particularly the monastery, was to be 
the energizing point from which humanity would be regener- 
ated. Father Zossima goes to great pains to describe how it is the 
function of Orthodox monks to preserve the image of Christ — 
the image of man's perfectability as "sons of God" — till such 
time as the Russian masses will their own perfection. That time, 
he thinks, may not be far off. In the meanwhile, by the perfection 
of their own lives the monks will keep Christ alive and by so 
doing will preserve man from despair. 

Dostoyevsky, like Whitman, assigned great importance and 
responsibility to literature in the spiritual growth of a nation. 
He regarded himself as a prophet, as we have seen; to Russia's 
greatest poet, Pushkin, he paid a Whitman esque tribute: "Had 
there been no Pushkin perhaps our faith in our Russian indi- 
viduality, in our national strength, and our belief in our future 
independent mission in the family of the European nations, 
would not have manifested itself with so unyielding a force as it 
did later." 21 To find in the latter half of the nineteenth century 
similar faith in the power of poetry one must go to Whitman's 



134 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

Preface to Leaves of Grass. Yet, in Dostoyevsky' s thinking, more 
important than the poet as leader was the supremely religious 
man, who by example and precept exerted over the people an 
influence equivalent to that of leader without ever assuming the 
role of leader. "Of old leaders of the people came from among us 
[the monks]," says Father Zossima, "and why should they not 
again? The same meek and humble ascetics will rise up and go 
out and work for the great cause. . . . The Russian monk has 
always been on the side of the people." 22 Such men, who are 
admittedly rare, must act not merely in the name of religion, as 
did the Grand Inquisitor, who in the name of Christ led his 
followers to eternal death, but in deepest religious conviction. In 
this class of the supremely religious — that is, those whose whole 
lives and not simply their protestations are embodiments of 
religion — Dostoyevsky thought the monastic Elders (startsi) of 
the Orthodox Church pre-eminently belonged. Chosen for their 
saintliness in word and deed, they became spiritual leaders not 
only in their monasteries but, more importantly, in the world at 
large through their closeness to the people. For, like Whitman's 
poets, the Elders had to be in intimate rapport with the people, 
who for Whitman and for Dostoyevsky are vast untapped reser- 
voirs of spiritual strength. Father Zossima in his youth traveled 
the length and breadth of Russia with the saintly, silent Father 
Anfim, an illiterate monk of the peasant class. This close contact 
with Holy Russia became a primary source of Father Zossima's 
own holiness, for "the peasant has God in his heart." 23 Thus the 
idea that the soil and the people are sources of spiritual strength 
is as basic to Dostoyevsky as to Whitman. Pilgrims were a com- 
mon sight on the Russian highways; and the conviction was that 
these men, with the breadth and depth of their knowledge of 
the Russian land and its people, must be holy men. A fine 
example is Makar Ivanovitch in Raw Youth — Makar, who, after 
his wife had been violated by his master in the days of serfdom, 



The New Man 135 

has spent his life wandering from one holy spot to another. In his 
old age, when he visits the son born of his wife's and master's 
union, he is as joyously seraphic as Father Zossima. 

Of course the would-be leader, especially the intellectual, who 
is out of contact with the people is either outright harmful or 
doomed to ineffectiveness. ' 'Those men of yours never loved 
the people," Shatov shouts to Stepan Trofimovitch, an ineffec- 
tual liberal of the 'forties. "They didn't suffer for them, and 
didn't sacrifice anything for them, though they may have amused 
themselves by imagining it. . . . You can't love what you don't 
know and they had no conception of the Russian people. All of 
them peered at the Russian people through their fingers. . . . And 
he who has no people has no God. You may be sure that all who 
cease to understand their own people and lose their connection 
with them at once lose to the same extent the faith of their 
fathers, and become atheistic or indifferent." 24 Shatov, of course, 
feels that the terrorists and nihilists of the 'sixties — about whom 
The Possessed is written — were among the most disastrously 
"segregated" from the people. Consequently, as Dostoyevsky 
did in his own life, Shatov repudiates his former revolutionary 
connections; he pays for the repudiation with his life. 

The isolation of the intelligentsia from the people and hence 
from God is a constantly recurring theme in Dostoyevsky, as 
it was in much nineteenth-century writing. Intellectuals who 
had lost contact with the people and the soil were of course 
anathema to Whitman. In Hawthorne's Ethan Brand, the hero, 
Ethan Brand himself, whose interest in his fellow men is solely 
the "scientific" one of discovering among them "the unpardon- 
able sin," pays for his objectivity by being orphaned from the 
Earth itself. "Oh, Mother Earth, who art no more my mother," 
he cries just before leaping to his death in a burning lime kiln. 
The price for the inability to love is hell, says Father Zossima. 
For Ethan it is hell as represented by his complete dehumaniza- 



136 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

tion. After the kiln burns out, the attendant sees on the surface of 
the lime the outline in ashes of Ethan's skeleton and of his heart. 
Pride of intellect leads to destruction of oneself and of the fellow 
human beings with whom one has dealings. Dostoyevsky's revo- 
lutionaries in The Possessed are just such monomaniacs as Haw- 
thorne's Ethan Brand or Dr. Rappaccini, or for that matter as 
Melville's Captain Ahab, whose passion to overcome evil leads 
to contempt for mankind and to the death of his crewmen. 

For a time, as he read the installments of Anna Karenina, 
Dostoyevsky thought he had found in Levin a new type of 
Russian of whom he could unconditionally approve. Levin was 
new in upper-class Russia because he was a man of conscience 
more than of intellect. In his approach to the injustices arising 
from control of the land by large landowners, Levin did not rush 
to Europe in search of a panacea and return with the latest eco- 
nomic theory from England or Germany. Rather, after a brief 
and futile expedition to Europe, he searched his own heart and 
the hearts of the people. From working in the fields with the 
peasants, he came to the realization that he could work with 
them on the economic level as well. All he need do was to under- 
stand and to love and respect these people whom he hoped to 
better, and then follow the prompting of his own conscience. 
Unfortunately Dostoyevsky changed his opinion of Levin after 
reading the last installment of the novel. For Levin considered 
the Serbian War a bit of phoney empire-building completely 
alien to the aspirations of the common people of Russia. Dosto- 
yevsky, who was at times a chauvinist, saw in the same war a cru- 
sade in which the Russian masses, following the deeper dictates 
of their souls, were selflessly going to the aid of their Slavic 
brethren against the infidel Turks. Dostoyevsky forthwith 
assigned Levin, and Tolstoy with him, to the company of segre- 
gated intellectuals, hopelessly and perversely out of touch with 
the people. 



The New Man 137 

Yet if Dostoyevsky had not been blinded by war hysteria he 
might not have withdrawn his approval from this Levin who 
not only went to school to the peasants in problems of economics 
but who found in the peasant heart exactly that love of God and 
neighbor that Dostoyevsky found there — a discovery that saved 
Levin from suicide by renewing his sense of purpose in life. To 
both Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, as to Whitman, the dearest dwell- 
ing place of God is the unsophisticated human heart. 



VIII 



THE NEW SOCIETY 



A man is both an individual and a member. Instead of "individual" I 
shall use the word "person." His personality is unique and not to be 
violated; but he is equally created to be a member of society. When society 
is conceived as merely a sum of individuals, you get the chaos of liberal 
democracy. When the person is wholly subordinated to society, you get 
the dehumanization of fascism or communism. The extremes, however, 
may meet. For what liberal democracy really recognizes is a sum, not of 
persons but of individuals: that is to say, not the variety and uniqueness of 
persons, but the purely material individuation of the old-fashioned or 
Democritean atom. And this is a disrespect to the person. For the person is 
no longer a person if wholly isolated from the community; and the com- 
munity is no longer a community if it does not consist of persons. A man 
is not himself unless he is a member; and he cannot be a member unless 
he is also something alone. Man's membership and his solitude must be 
taken together. 

T. S. Eliot 

To Dostoyevsky and Whitman a new society must evolve from 
the souls of new men, and this is the only way the new society 
can arise. Man cannot be compelled to reform by a force ex- 
terior to himself. "Were communities so constituted," wrote 
Whitman, "that to prune their errors, the only thing necessary 
should be the passage of laws, the task of reform would be no 



The New Society 139 

task at all. . . . You cannot legislate men into morality." 1 And 
elsewhere he demands: "Let every man look to himself. Then 
society will take care of itself." 2 Whitman, like Dostoyevsky, sub- 
scribed to the New Testament teaching concerning the presence 
of the kingdom of God in man. Utopia, the kingdom of God, the 
perfect society, exists within human souls in the form of love. It 
exists — and can exist — nowhere else and in no other form. Whit- 
man has been described as a socialist at heart, but the word 
"heart" is the key. He was not one in his head. The comradeship, 
the brotherhood, inherent in the idea of socialism appealed to 
his heart. But the coercion, the exterior pressures upon the 
individual seemed less attractive to him. He himself made the 
distinction when he called himself an intrinsic, but not a tech- 
nical, socialist. Canby has justly said that nothing could be more 
abhorrent to Whitman than the modern proletarian state with 
its total negation of the human will — the sole source of morality 
and virtue. It is not surprising to learn that in the opinion of at 
least one friend Whitman "was the most conservative of men. He 
believed in the old ways; had no faith in any 'reform' as such 
and thought that no change could be made in the condition of 
mankind except by the most gradual evolution. ... He did not 
believe that woman's suffrage would do any particular good. 
Anything like free love was utterly repugnant to his mind and 
he had no toleration for the Mormons. . . . He was very hostile to 
anything like anarchy, communism, and socialism. . . . For the 
abolitionists he had no sympathy. While opposed to slavery al- 
ways, he thought that they considered the subject too all-impor- 
tant and were incendiary in their methods." 3 Whitman's radi- 
calism was of the heart, not the head; of the spirit, not of politics 
and economics. Yet his reputation as a political revolutionary is 
widespread. In Russia the Bolsheviki persistently regarded him 
as being on their side, and during the civil war some of his poems 



140 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

were translated and distributed as morale builders among the 
Red troops. 

Dostoyevsky's conservatism has never been questioned. In 
his youth he was a follower of the radical westernizer, Belinsky, 
but after his Siberian experiences his attitude underwent a com- 
plete reversal and he became a staunch supporter of the political 
status quo. In his thoughts about the human spirit, however, the 
Siberian imprisonment only deepened his radicalism. As with 
Whitman, it was just this newly conceived, revolutionary idea of 
humanity and its spiritual potential that made him hostile to 
shallowly conceived social panaceas. In a later analysis of the 
idol of his youth, Belinsky, Dostoyevsky makes his own attitude 
clear. "Treasuring above everything reason, science, and real- 
ism, at the same time he comprehended more keenly than any- 
one that reason, science, and realism can only produce an ant's 
nest and not social 'harmony' within which man can organize 
his life. He knew that moral principles are the basis of all things. 
He believed to the degree of delusion ... in the moral founda- 
tions of socialism (which, however, up to the present revealed 
none but abominable perversions of nature and common 

sense) Still, as a socialist he had to destroy Christianity in the 

first place. He knew that the revolution must necessarily begin 
with atheism. He had to dethrone that religion whence the moral 
foundations rejected by him had sprung up. Family, property, 
personal moral responsibility — these he denied radically. 
Doubtless, he understood that by denying moral responsi- 
bility of man, he thereby denied also his freedom, yet he believed 
with all his being that socialism not only does not destroy the 
freedom of man, but, on the contrary, restores it in a form of 
unheard-of majesty . . . ." 4 Facing this dilemma in a way of 
which Belinsky was apparently incapable, Dostoyevsky rejected 
all purely reason-based reform on the grounds that it would cut 
off at its roots the basis of morality — the freedom of the human 



The New Society 141 

will. Better, he thought, for man to have the choice between 
good and evil even if he chose evil, for without that possibility of 
evil there is no possibility of good. This is the point Dostoyevsky 
makes in the chapter on the Grand Inquisitor; man must have 
free choice to follow the Christ, the divinity within him. Society 
without faith in the existence of such a divinity, such a human 
potential, becomes a mere ant-hill. 

Indeed Dostoyevsky believes that mankind so cherishes his 
free will that in an ant-heap society, where a rational code of 
morality was imposed on man by government, man would 
deliberately choose that which is irrational, even self-destruc- 
tion, simply for the pleasure of exerting his will. In Notes from 
Underground the protagonist rejects, from sheer boredom, pure 
logic: the proposition that two plus two equal four, or, socio- 
logically speaking, that what is for the greatest good for the 
greatest number of people is good for the individual. He finds 
that his need for free play of the will is satisfied by perversely 
believing that two plus two equal five and what is good for the 
majority is bad for the individual. He rejects the rationalist 
Utopias of the nineteenth century based on the proposition that 
man seeks his own happiness. Utilitarianism may satisfy the 
mind but not the will, which discovers fulfillment in perversity. 
The underground man, who is not respondent to reason, will 
never rest at peace with the greatest happiness for the greatest 
number. With a sneer on his face, he will rise up against the 
Utopia in which his will has been imprisoned and, like the 
twentieth-century "hood" vandalizing the palatial school that 
has been erected for his moral and intellectual welfare, will cry, 
"Come on, guys, let's do a job on this. Let's show them what we 
think of them." And in their boredom with logic, the ''guys" will 
throw themselves wholeheartedly into the demolition of the 
structure that was to make them happy. Such destructiveness 
Dostoyevsky thinks inevitable in any society, no matter how 



142 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

thoroughly reformed politically and economically, which denies 
God; for in denying God man erases all distinction between 
good and evil, and his will, which by his very nature he must 
exert, will be reduced to mere perversity and whim. "You say a 
rational attitude to humanity is to your own advantage, too," 
says the hero of Raw Youth in the course of a political argument; 
"but what if I think all these rational considerations irrational, 
and dislike all these socialist barracks and phalanxes? What the 
devil do I care for them or for the future when I shall live only 
once on earth! Allow me to judge my advantage for myself; it's 
more amusing. What does it matter to me what will happen in 
a thousand years to your humanity if, on your principles, I am 
to get for it neither love, nor future life, nor recognition of my 
heroism? No, if that's how it is I'd rather live in the most igno- 
rant way for myself and let them all go to perdition." 5 

All that remains then is Shigalovism — the enforcement of 
happiness by killing a hundred million persons and constituting 
each individual a spy on every other — and even this will fail. 
Stripped of belief in God, man is stripped of a belief in himself, 
according to Dostoyevsky and Whitman. When that occurs, all 
the coerceive imposition of moral codes and philosophies of life 
from without will be futile. To Dostoyevsky, reformers seem 
even more harmful potentially than they do to Whitman. Like 
Hawthorne he considers them, more often than not, to be mad- 
men, devils, possessed — men who like Belinsky are rendered un- 
responsive to their better feelings by a fanatical attachment to 
one idea. Dostoyevsky's The Possessed is a record of frenzied ac- 
tivities of such monomaniacs: suicide, murder, arson — all in the 
name of humanitarianism. Always, in Dostoyevsky, these re- 
formers are men of colossal pride. Having rejected God they 
assume the functions of God themselves. Without His help they 
attempt to create a heaven on earth; they will erect a new Tower 
of Babel. These are the new men-gods of whom the devil speaks 



The New Society 143 

to Ivan Karamazov. But they will never complete this new 
Tower of Babel, Dostoyevsky believes, though the effort will 
cost a hundred million lives. In their new society brotherly love 
will supposedly compensate for the loss of God and the promise 
of heaven in another life. But as Dostoyevsky points out else- 
where, "to love one's neighbor from the standpoint of reason is 
unreasonable." 6 Since the new society will be based on reason, 
love of one's neighbors would be a contradiction. Seeing the 
need for fraternity, "the frantic Socialist sets desperately to work 
on future fraternity, defining it, calculating its size and weight, 
enticing you with its advantages, explaining, teaching, telling 
of the profit each stands to gain from the fraternity and just how 

each will win " 7 What results is of course not fraternity at all, 

for fraternity has its basis in the irrational soul of man and, 
according to Dostoyevsky, arises from his love of God, whose 
fatherhood alone makes believable the doctrine of the brother- 
hood of human beings. "In a word, if there is to be a foundation 
for brotherhood and love, there must be love. One must be 
drawn instinctively towards brotherhood, community, and 
harmony; one must be drawn despite the nation's age-old suffer- 
ings, despite the barbaric coarseness and ignorance The need 

for brotherly love must be in the nature of man, or else he must 
have assimilated the habit through the centuries." 8 

All societies that ignore these spiritual realities are doomed to 
failure. Social change must arise from the people. The leaders 
must be armed with a religious faith in the strength and basic 
goodness of the masses. Both Dostoyevsky and Whitman were 
possessed of such faith in their countries. "I wish that it may be 
understood," wrote Dostoyevsky, "that above all I am for the 
people; that I believe as in a sanctity in their soul, in their great 
forces, which no one among us knows in their full compass and 
grandeur." 9 These could be the words of Whitman rhapsodizing 
on the American masses. The conviction is no less frequently 



144 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

reiterated in Dostoyevsky, perhaps its most eloquent expression 
coming from the lips of Father Zossima: "One who does not be- 
lieve in God will not believe in God's people. He who believes 
in God's people will see His Holiness too, even though he had 
not believed it till then. Only the people and their future spiri- 
tual power will convert our atheists, who have torn themselves 
away from their native soil." 10 

To Dostoyevsky the strength of the people lay in their Ortho- 
doxy, of which their souls were living tabernacles. Before Peter 
the Great, Russian theologians had built up the theory that 
Orthodoxy and the Russian people were to lead the world into 
holiness. Moscow was the "third Rome," the final depository of 
"pure" Christianity (after Rome and Constantinople) before the 
end of the world. From this concept developed a belief in 
Russia's Messianic role which, in wholly different and more 
dangerous garb, is still a driving force behind Russian-sponsored 
world communism. But in his generation, Dostoyevsky felt that 
Russia, under the leadership of Westernizing intellectuals out 
of contact with the soil and the peasantry, had forgotten its 
Messiahship and must be vigorously reminded of it. The revital- 
izing energy would come from the people: "The salvation of 
Russia comes from the people ... an unbelieving reformer will 
never do anything in Russia, even if he is sincere in heart and a 
genius. Remember that. The people will meet the atheist and 
overcome him, and Russia will be one and Orthodox. Take care 
of the peasant and guard his heart. Go on educating him qui- 
etly . . . for the peasant has God in his heart." 11 

Whitman's is a no less ardent faith in the people, equally 
imbued with a sense of the divine sanction of man's presence 
on earth, though not in the context of a formal, organized 
religion like Orthodoxy. "Grand common stock!" he exults in 
Democratic Vistas, "To me the accomplish'd and convincing 
growth, prophetic of the future. Proof undeniable to sharpest 



The New Society 145 

sense, of perfect beauty, tenderness and pluck .... Let no tongue 
ever speak in disparagement of the American races, north or 
south, to one who has been through the war in the great army 
hospitals." 12 The people, this ''grand common stock," is the rock- 
bottom fact of the nation. It is "too sluggish maybe, but ever 
holding decision and decrees in hand . . . and at times indeed 
summarily crushing to atoms the mightiest parties, even in the 
hour of their pride." 13 Back of all the upheavals, all the fanfare 
and turmoil and "rapid shifting" of the political life of the na- 
tion, "the people remain." 

That the people had faults both Dostoyevsky and Whitman 
admit. Father Zossima deplores the drunkenness, greed, money- 
lending, selfishness, vile language among the peasants. And in 
America Whitman finds the people too often ignorant, crude, 
credulous, unfit, uncouth, materialistic. Yet neither author de- 
spairs. In Russia the peasants, Dostoyevsky believes, are aware of 
their evil-doing, know they sin against God, and, having faith in 
God, will mend their ways under the proper guidance. In 
America Whitman is sure that the people will improve them- 
selves — the impulse is there. In all people are latent an "aspira- 
tion for independence, and a pride, and self-respect," 14 which 
need only to be given free scope in order to flourish. The free 
scope will come with man's realization of his own infinitude, as 
Emerson called it, which in turn will produce governments and 
social conditions more favorable to the development of char- 
acter. 

In the societies of their respective countries Whitman and 
Dostoyevsky find much to deplore, just as they do in the morality 
of individuals. In Democratic Vistas Whitman describes at 
length the shortcomings of governmental and business morality 
during the presidency of Grant, not to mention the general 
mores and habits of mind of the people, especially the wealthy 
and fashionable. "The depravity of the business classes of our 



146 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

country is not less than has been supposed, but infinitely greater. 
The official services of America, national, state, and municipal, 
in all their branches and departments, except the judiciary, are 
saturated in corruption, bribery, falsehood, maladministration; 
and the judiciary is tainted. The great cities reek with respect- 
able as much as nonrespectable scoundrelism. In fashionable 
life, flippancy, tepid amours, weak infidelism, small aims, or no 
aims at all, only to kill time. In business (that all devouring mod- 
ern word business) the sole object is, by any means, pecuniary 
gain." 15 The spectacle is indeed appalling, and familiar to our 
century as well as to the nineteenth, and at the basis of it all is 
the "weak infidelism" — a superciliousness, a hypocrisy, a lack 
of belief in humanity itself. The other failings are by-products 
of this spiritual atrophy. 

Dostoyevsky is less outspoken concerning the corruption of 
Russian official life, though he was aware of it — as is evidenced 
in Memoirs from the House of the Dead — and wrote of it per- 
haps as much as he dared. But against the "weak infidelism" of 
the Russian intelligentsia he was able safely to speak his mind. A 
diatribe from the mouth of Shatov in The Possessed is on a vitu- 
perative level with Whitman when most lustily playing the part 
of Jeremiah: "What are the men I've broken with? The foes of 
all true life, out-of-date Liberals afraid of their own independ- 
ence, the flunkeys of thought, the enemies of all freedom and 
personality, the decadent advocates of death and rottenness. All 
they have to offer is senility, glorious mediocrity of the most 
bourgeois kind, contemptible shallowness . . . ." 16 Elsewhere in 
The Possessed is the remark: " 'The higher liberalism' and the 
'higher liberal,' that is, a liberal without any definite aim, is only 
possible in Russia." 17 Whitman would have added — "and in the 
United States." For "weak infidelism" and "higher liberalism" 
seem to have been one and the same thing. 

In both America and Russia, according to Dostoyevsky and 



The New Society 147 

Whitman, the great obstacle to spiritual flowering was exactly 
this "flunkeyism of thought" that Shatov finds characteristic of 
Liberalism. And "flunkeyism of thought" to both authors was 
imitation of Europe in both its bourgeois and feudal aspects. 
Both deplored the obliteration of the native genius by overcoat- 
ings of "culture" and "delicatesse" (Whitman's words) and by 
"civilization" (Dostoyevsky's word) from Europe. To both 
Europe was a "precious graveyard," 18 as Ivan Karamazov called 
it, in which are interred the old passionate faiths — in truth, sci- 
ence, work — of a civilization that is dead in comparison with 
the two huge nations to the east and west. The truly original 
contributions that America and Russia had to offer could be 
overlooked in both nations' too deep attachment to this deca- 
dent European culture. To Dostoyevsky it was time that the 
Westernization initiated in Russia by Peter the Great be brought 
to a halt; Russia, however much she may have benefited by con- 
tact with the West, was now ready to make her own great and 
unique impression on history. To Whitman, America must cast 
off the last cords of Colonialism that were hampering her intel- 
lectual and artistic life and, perfectly free, strike on toward her 
own New World destiny. The uniqueness of each nation would 
show itself in all the manifestations that comprise a culture, but 
Dostoyevsky and Whitman were particularly emphatic about 
the need of a purely national literature. Dostoyevsky thought 
such a literature had already sprung up in Russia. The first great 
representative national had appeared in Pushkin, and Anna 
Karenina (excepting its last section) was a monument of the 
Russian spirit that could hold its own with any European mas- 
terpiece. In Whitman's opinion the great American priest-poet 
was yet to come. Meanwhile, to him, it was a living disgrace that 
American literature still aped the European "feudal" and "haut 
ton" models. 

The possible contribution that Dostoyevsky and Whitman 



148 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

saw, each for his own nation, would be of course a complete new 
culture — a huge forward stride in man's spiritual evolution. In 
their ideas about government they were poles apart. Dostoyev- 
sky was a supporter of the Czar and the established Orthodox 
Church — both of which were horrifying to Whitman, the 
prophet of democracy. To Dostoyevsky American democracy, 
like European, was based on greed and materialism. It is while 
being "exploited" in America that Shatov in The Possessed 
awakes to the beauties and significance of the Russian soul, and 
when he returns he is an enemy of all Westernizing influences in 
Russia. Even in Poe, whose work he otherwise admired, Dosto- 
yevsky finds the fantasy to be "material," whatever he means by 
that, and thus typically American. 

The strictures of each against the other's country were not 
without basis: Russia was a despotism in which the people were 
bestialized, and America was deplorably materialistic. We have 
seen that neither was blind to the evils in his own nation. But 
the two authors travel parallel roads again when they define the 
goal that their peoples and governments should set themselves. 
This goal, of each, is the creation of a society in which there 
would be a full flourishing of the individual in his relations to 
God and to his fellow men. In all his thought, Dostoyevsky 
asserted, the unviolated dignity of the individual was the start- 
ing and the ending point. And Whitman saw "underneath the 
fluctuations of the expressions of society . . . this image of com- 
pleteness in separatism of individual dignity." 19 But though the 
fostering of individual freedom and inviolability was the basic 
aim of each society, the concept of "rugged individualism" as it 
carries over from laissez-faire economic freedom into personal 
morality was repugnant to both. Any freedom that separates the 
individual from the rest of humanity is a faulty and incomplete 
freedom. The fierce competitive acquisitiveness that was mis- 
taken for freedom in many of the liberal democracies tends to 



The New Society 149 

isolate the individual. Both Whitman and Dostoyevsky consid- 
ered "each to be responsible to all for all." In this involvement 
of each with all lies the chief dignity of man. 

We have seen that Dostoyevsky considered the isolation of the 
intellectual from the masses, one of the major tragedies of the 
Russia of his day. This "sin of the intellect" was only one type of 
irresponsible individualism that he deplored. Another was the 
bourgeois spirit of self-aggrandizement which he saw growing 
in all people, especially in the West, as a result of the popular 
philosophies of the time, such as social Darwinism, which pro- 
jected the theory of the survival of the fittest into the economic 
affairs of man as an excuse for ruthless business practices. Mod- 
ern man in general, not only the intellectual, was becoming 
isolated, atomized, to use T. S. Eliot's expression. Says Father 
Zossima: "All mankind in our age have split up into units, they 
all keep apart . . . [man] heaps up riches by himself and thinks 
'How strong I am and how secure,' and in his madness he does 
not understand that the more he heaps up the more he sinks into 
self-destructive impotence. For he is accustomed to rely on him- 
self alone and to cut himself off from the whole; he has trained 
himself not to believe in the help of others, in men and hu- 
manity, and only trembles for fear he should lose his money and 
the privileges he has won for himself. Everywhere in these days 
men have in their mockery ceased to understand that true secu- 
rity is to be found in general human solidarity rather than in iso- 
lated individual effort. But this terrible individualism must 
inevitably have an end, and all will suddenly understand how 
unnaturally they are separated from one another." 20 This "ter- 
rible individualism" Dostoyevsky saw as an infection spreading 
into Russia from the West. Its most malignant characteristic he 
defined as a notion of equality based solely on material needs. 
"You have needs and so satisfy them, for you have the same rights 
as the most rich and the most noble. Don't be afraid of satisfying 



150 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

them and even multiplying your desires." 21 This, he says, is the 
modern notion of freedom, but actually it is an enslavement — 
an enslavement to things, to the body and its lusts. "In the rich, 
isolation and spiritual suicide; in the poor, envy and murder." 
An example of this slavery to one's "multiplied desires" is a revo- 
lutionary cited by Father Zossima. This champion of liberty, 
while in prison, feels so strongly the deprivation of tobacco that 
he is ready to betray his cause to satisfy his craving. Contrary to 
the claims that material prosperity and more equitable distribu- 
tion of goods will lead to greater unity, the result is actually 
greater disunity, so that in the end the envious poor will drink 
blood. 

What is the answer? Brotherhood of man, which will be the 
distinctive Russian contribution, by example, for in Russia this 
brotherhood will be realized first and the rest of the world will 
follow. But before brotherhood can prevail even in Russia, each 
individual must feel himself a brother to every other human 
being. No sociology, no reform can induce this feeling of brother- 
hood. It must arise from the divinely oriented inner core of 
being where all good actions, all love, have their origin. Any 
influence that tended to inhibit the free action of love, which 
Dostoyevsky considered natural to man, was equally abhorrent 
to Dostoyevsky and Whitman, whether it was the materialism of 
capitalism or of communism. 

Dostoyevsky quoted the biblical paradox to explain his con- 
cept of individualism: "Except a corn of wheat fall into the 
ground and die, it abideth alone, but if it die it brings forth 
much fruit." (John 12:24) A detailed elucidation of this text 
appears in Winter Notes on Summer Impressions, a work in 
which Dostoyevsky gives his reactions to the social institutions 
of the West. He states that in the West acquisitive individualism 
was too deeply ingrained ever to permit man there to achieve 
the brotherhood that was the end product of socialism. Russia 



The New Society 151 

he thought had a better chance, though socialism, with its rejec- 
tion of the spirit, was definitely not the way. He then asks: ''Must 
one be without personality to be happy?" His answer is in the 
negative: "A person must not only lose his personality, but 
actually attain a much greater degree of individuality than now 
exists in the West. Understand me: voluntary, fully conscious 
self-sacrifice utterly free of outside constraint, sacrifice of one's 
entire self for the benefit of all, is in my opinion a sign of the 
supreme development of individuality, of its supreme power, 
absolute self-mastery and freedom of will " 22 No less an indi- 
vidualism than this will suit Dostoyevsky and he believes that 
the "resurrected" Russian people under the guidance of Ortho- 
doxy, that is, the purest Christianity, will realize this ideal. 

In the United States Whitman's originality, in dealing with 
the problem of the individual's relation to society, was shown in 
his believing, like Dostoyevsky, that the highest flowering of 
individuality would bloom from a soil of social solidarity. In 
this respect he counteracted a weakness in most of his con- 
temporaries among American authors, especially the Transcen- 
dentalists, who played down the individual's role as a mem- 
ber of society. Despite its vision of the ennoblement of the 
human soul, Emerson's essay "Self-Reliance" savors of spiritual 
and intellectual pride in its tendency to build barriers between 
the self-sufficient person and his dependent, conforming fellows. 
Thoreau's Walden errs more in this respect in that it advocates 
an even more lonely self-sufficiency than that of Emerson. Both 
of the great Concordians attempted to tighten the bonds between 
man and God without strengthening those between man and 
man. Critical of this insularity were Melville and Hawthorne, 
who drew their would-be totally self-sufficient heroes, like Ethan 
Brand and Captain Ahab, as monsters of pride doomed to ulti- 
mate tragic failure. Whitman, however, attempted to define the 



152 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

very delicate threads that bind the individual in his relations 
with his fellow men. 

To Whitman, as to Dostoyevsky, material equality, the satis- 
faction of the physical wants of all beyond the necessities, was 
in no sense a true equality or true freedom and was not con- 
ducive to healthy individuality. Rather, in the freedom to seek 
one's own material gain Whitman saw a strong possibility of the 
stunting of the personality through the soul's enslavement to 
things. He vigorously deplores "the abandonment of such a 
great being as a man to the toss and pallor of years of money- 
making with all their scorching days and icy nights and all their 

stifling deceits and underhanded dodgings " He recommends 

that the American be content with the "independence of a little 
sum laid aside for burial money, and of a few clapboards around 
and shingles overhead on a lot of American soil owned, and the 
easy dollars that supply the year's plain clothing and meals." 23 

America, Whitman felt, had gone successfully through two 
stages of three necessary for the achievement of a supreme demo- 
cratic society. One of these was the establishment of an effective 
form of government, and this had been accomplished by the 
Constitutional Convention in the last century. The other was 
the building of a strong economy — in other words, of a firm 
material basis for the new society; and this he thought his own 
century had more than adequately accomplished. But the third 
and most important stage still lay in the future. This was the 
flowering of the spiritual life of "a sublime and serious Religious 
Democracy" which would find its "expression spirit" in a new 
native literature and other arts and in American personalities. 
The test of any civilization is the quality of the individual who 
lives in it. We have already seen what manner of man Whitman 
thought the true American should be. In his social context 
Whitman's new individual was no more an isolate than was 
Dostoyevsky's. "This idea of perfect individualism it is indeed 



The New Society 153 

that deepest tinges and gives character to the idea of the aggre- 
gate. For it is mainly or altogether to serve independent separa- 
tism that we favor a strong generalization, consolidation . . . man, 
properly train'd in sanest, highest freedom, may and must be- 
come a law, and series of laws, unto himself, surrounding and 
providing for, not only his own personal control, but all his 

relations to other individuals The common ambition strains 

for elevations, to become some privileged exclusive. The master 
sees greatness and health in being part of the mass; nothing will 
do as well as common ground. Would you have in yourself the 
divine, vast, general law? Then merge yourself in it ... . The 
liberalist of today has this advantage over antique or medieval 
times, that his doctrine seeks not only to individualize but to 
universalize. The great word Solidarity has arisen." 24 The mere 
possession of the franchise is not important, says Whitman (as 
would Dostoyevsky), but to "an enfranchised man" it is impor- 
tant. It means essentially what Christ, according to the Grand 
Inquisitor, demanded of his followers: the free choice between 
good and evil, the acceptance or rejection of God. Democracy is 
"life's gymnasium" in which all men may exercise their moral 
muscles in the choice between good and evil, the selfish and the 
unselfish. Often enough the people make the wrong, the selfish 
choice. But the promise is there; the opportunity is there. And 
this is the promise of exactly that voluntary self-sacrifice for 
others without hope of personal gain that Dostoyevsky described 
as the culmination of perfect individualism. 

Whitman was convinced that the American people were 
capable of attaining these heights of selflessness in which the 
noblest individualism is found. Once again he reverts to the 
great experience in his life, his work in the Civil War hospitals. 
It was from what he learned in those scenes, he writes, that he 
wrote Democratic Vistas, the book in which he develops most 
explicitly his faith in the future of the American people. During 



154 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

those four years he observed "the people of their own choice 
[italics mine] fighting, dying for their own idea," that is, for the 
idea of the Union, whose preservation they considered essential 
for the welfare of America and indeed the whole world. "With 
alacrity," these American, "the peaceablest in the world," sub- 
mitted themselves to the indignities of army life, the horrors of 
battle, the tortures of "the wounds, the amputation, the shat- 
tered face or limb," and the ultimate agony of death "without 
cowardice or qualms of terror." 25 In this selflessness Whitman 
found the highest development of self. 

In Democratic Vistas Whitman frequently speaks of the 
American idea, and Dostoyevsky in Diary of a Writer no less 
often refers to the Russian idea. What each means is that peculiar 
essence of the national spirit which makes for distinctive na- 
tionality and which, more importantly, will be the nation's ulti- 
mate gift to history. To Dostoyevsky the Russian idea — which 
really was two ideas merged in one — found its first expression in 
the writing of Pushkin, whose importance he emphasizes over 
and over again, not only in his famous "Pushkin Address" but 
throughout The Diary of a Writer. "In Pushkin there are two 
principal or guiding ideas, and both comprise the symbol of the 
future character, of the whole mission of Russia, and, therefore, 
— of our whole future destiny. The first idea is the universality 
of Russia, her responsiveness and actual, unquestioned kinship 
with the geniuses of all ages and nations of the world. This 
thought . . . was actually fulfilled by [Pushkin], embodied for- 
ever in his ingenious creations .... He was a man of the ancient 
world; he was a German; he was an Englishman, . . . and he was 
also the poet of the East. He said and proclaimed to all these 
peoples that Russian genius knew them, . . . that, as a kinsman, it 
could fully reincarnate itself in them; that universality was 
given only to the Russian spirit — the future mission to compre- 
hend and to unite all the different nationalities, eliminatng all 



The New Society 155 

their contradictions." 26 To the intellectuals in Dostoyevsky's 
novels Europe is often dearer than their native land, just as it is 
to many American expatriates, like T. S. Eliot and Henry James. 
Insofar as this allegiance to Europe was accompanied by aliena- 
tion from, and contempt for, Russia, Dostoyevsky did not 
approve. But insofar as it was a manifestation of universality 
and all-sympathy he finally came to regard it as typically and 
healthily Russian. "Only Russia lives not for herself, but for an 
idea, and you must admit . . . the remarkable fact that for almost 
the last hundred years Russia has lived . . . only for the other 
States of Europe! And what of them! They are doomed to pass 
through fearful agonies before they attain the kingdom of 
God." 27 

Whitman's image of America and her destiny was startlingly 
similar to Dostoyevsky's of Russia. America, like Russia, is a 
land "tolerating all, accepting all." 28 America honors the best of 
other nations, but she is destined to lead them onward to a new 
and higher civilization — "Ensemble, Evolution, Freedom." 
The nation is like a ship sailing into unknown seas, freighted 
with the present and the past — 

Thau holdest not the venture of thyself alone, not of the Western 

continent alone, 
Earth's resume floats on thy keel O ship, is steadied by thy spars, 
With thee time voyages in trust, the antecedent nations sink or 

swim with thee, 
With all their ancient struggles, martyrs, heroes, epics, wars, thou 

bear'st the other continents, 
Theirs, theirs as much as thine, the destination-port triumphant; 
Steer them with good strong hand and wary eye O helmsman, thou 

carries t great companions, 
Venerable priestly Asia sails this day with thee, 
And royal feudal Europe sails with thee. 29 



156 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

As Dostoyevsky wrote of the Russian idea, and impregnated 
his novels with it, Whitman sang the American idea. Both ideas 
were the same: universality and brotherhood drawing their 
strength from the people and spreading outward to engulf the 
world in fraternity. And each idea is firmly rooted in religion — 
is in fact a religion in itself. Whitman insists that mankind's 
problems are not only social but, more basically, religious as 
well. The new America envisaged in Democratic Vistas will be 
fired by the idea that "the personality of mortal life is most im- 
portant with reference to the immortal." 30 The sense of the 
national destiny as a divine mission — a M essiahship — will be all- 
engrossing if and when the nation makes its final leap into the 
spiritual stage — a leap which it must make if it is to survive. 

Similarly, in The Possessed Shatov says: "Not a single nation 
has ever been founded on principles of science and reason." Na- 
tions, he goes on to say in words reminiscent of Pasternak's 
remarks on history, are built up by "the force of the persistent 
assertions of one's own existence, and a denial of death. It's the 
spirit of life, as the Scriptures call it, 'the river of living 
water' .... God is the synthetic personality of the whole people, 
taken from its beginning to its end. . . . It's a sign of the decay of 
nations when they begin to have gods in common. . . . The 
stronger the people the more individual their God." When 
accused of reducing God "to the attribute of nationality," 
Shatov indignantly answers: "On the contrary, I raise the people 
to God. . . . The people is the body of God. Every people is only 
a people so long as it has its own and excludes all other gods on 
earth . . . ." Shatov's own belief crescendoes to fanaticism: "I 
believe in Russia. ... I believe in her Orthodoxy. ... I believe 
in the body of Christ. ... I believe that the new advent will take 
place in Russia I believe " 31 

Such ardor can easily flare up into racism and war mongering, 
as it did to a certain extent in Dostoyevsky and in Whitman. 



The New Society 157 

Though in the main Dostoyevsky envisages Russia's Messiah ship 
as a spiritual one to be furthered by example rather than the 
sword, he was a fervent pan-Slav, at times an objectionable jin- 
goist ready to support, on idealist grounds, any imperialist ven- 
ture the Czar embroiled himself in. Thus, while to Tolstoy the 
Balkan War was an ignoble grab for power, a political push 
toward the Dardenelles, to Dostoyevsky it was a holy war of 
Orthodox Slavs against the infidels — which was exactly what 
the government wished the people to believe. The nations of 
Western Europe — so dear to the all-humanitarian Russian 
heart, were suddenly seen as malignant and diabolic schemers 
when they in any way thwarted Russian expansion. Balked con- 
tinuously in the West, Russia must look to the East, to Asia, 
where military victories were the rule of the day. In that direc- 
tion, Dostoyevsky concluded, Russia's manifest destiny lay. 

Such imperialism even when it springs from sincerely held, 
spiritually benign motives, is dangerous. In the nineteenth 
century it paraded under many guises — for example, the White 
Man's Burden and Der Drang nach Osten. Today it exists in 
Russia as World Communism. Perhaps Dostoyevsky was correct. 
Any spiritually strong nation must have a religious faith in its 
own destiny and institutions and in the rightness of these for all 
mankind. Certainly Russia and the United States are possessed 
today by that conviction. And ironically the aims, on the theo- 
retical level at least, are pretty much the same: the establishment 
of universal peace based on the brotherhood of man. This is 
perhaps the spiritual aim of all dynamic nationalism. But the 
means differ, as they did in the thought of Dosteyevsky and Whit- 
man, and do today to a much greater degree in Russian Com- 
munism and American Democracy. Yet we must never forget 
that the similar aims are there — a possible common ground — 
and that they had their seedtime in the nineteenth century in 



158 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

the spiritual fervor of such spiritual leaders as Dostoyevsky and 
Whitman. 

"Manifest destiny" as an ideological weapon of imperialism 
was the American equivalent of pan-Slavism in Whitman's time. 
And jumping on the band wagon of Manifest Destiny, Whitman 
could be as offensively jingoistic as Dostoyevsky. He assumed as 
inevitable the absorption of Canada and all of Latin America 
into "these States." He was as blind concerning the Mexican 
War as Dostoyevsky was about the Balkan War. "What," he asks, 
"has miserable inefficient Mexico ... to do with the great mission 
of peopling the world with a noble race?" 32 That mission was 
reserved for the United States, on whose increase in territory 
Whitman looked "with the faith that the Christian has in God's 
mysteries." 33 

These emotional lapses are frequent but not altogether typical 
of Dostoyevsky and Whitman. Both were keenly and continu- 
ously aware of the weaknesses of their countries. The fulfillment 
of their missions lay in the future, both insisted. The present was 
deplorable and the time for change was running out. Dosto- 
yesky had misgivings lest the Russian God had been drowned in 
cheap vodka in his chief dwelling place, the soul of the mouzhik. 
And Whitman asserted that never before in the United States 
had there been so much "hollowness of heart." Nor did either 
one regard the future greatness of his nation to be assured. Whit- 
man's sobering assessment is: "The United States are destined 
either to surmount the gorgeous history of feudalism, or else 
prove the most tremendous failure of time." 34 He does not find 
evident anywhere in America as yet "a great moral and religious 
civilization — the only justification of a great material one." 35 
Dostoyevsky's most dramatic warning of the possible ruin of 
Russia is his famous passage on the galloping troika in The 
Brothers Karamazov. Russia dashes blindly, madly on her head- 
long way, tramping underfoot her traditions, her institutions, 



The New Society 159 

her spiritual bulwarks, while the nations of the world stand 
aghast and in their fear join forces to stop the runaway. 

But an optimistic, unshakable confidence in the future roles 
of their countries was the normal frame of mind of these authors. 
For mankind in general they insisted the future held great 
glories and happiness. They shared the dream of Dostoyevsky's 
Ridiculous Man, and like him would not give up their faith in 
man's ultimate perfection. And they shared Stepan Verhoven- 
sky's view in The Possessed: "What is far more essential for man 
than personal happiness is to know and to believe at every in- 
stant that there is somewhere a perfect and serene happiness for 
all men and for everything." 36 



IX 



CONCLUSION 



How would Dostoyevsky and Whitman feel about our own mid- 
twentieth century? Would they discern the realization of their 
hope for a world society based on brotherly love freely given one 
man to another? The answer is obvious. Hate, rather than love, 
is even more the rule of politics, both national and international, 
than ever before. Political systems in Europe — fascism, nazism, 
communism have stood or fallen on the intensity of hate they 
can generate in their peoples. In the so-called democracies, while 
hate is perhaps less cynically employed, it is still a potent weapon 
in winning elections and furthering the ambitions of military 
cliques. The two major parties in America vie in the intensity 
of the anger they can display against Russia and in the quantity 
and deadliness of the weapons they promise to stockpile against 
the day we come to grips with the hated enemy. Meanwhile 
Russia fans her own anger and heaps up her own stockpile of 
death. "Balance of terror" has become a respectable phrase for 
an accepted foreign policy, and where there is terror there is 
hate. 

As for the release of love, that most potent of social forces 



Conclusion 161 

according to Dostoyevsky and Whitman, the amounts are too 
pitiably small, even among allies, to mention. Are Dostoyevsky 
and Whitman wrong? Is hate a more potent, constructive politi- 
cal tool than love? Obviously the governments of the world are 
staking their chances on hate, and the advocate of love, any- 
where, is liable to find himself behind prison walls. 

Within nations the picture may not be so gloomy. In the 
United States, despite the presence of race hatred in some seg- 
ments both North and South, there are very definite signs that 
even this problem will be solved by good will and brotherhood. 
The States on the whole do seem welded in that fraternal unity 
of which Whitman so fondly dreamed. Similarly in the Soviet 
Union, despite the wishful thinking of many Americans, there 
does not seem to be any serious disunity, though this may be 
partly the result of fear rather than freely generated feelings of 
comradeship. Less favorable from the points of view of Whit- 
man and Dostoyevsky is the increasing emphasis in each country 
upon material progress at the expense of spiritual growth. Whit- 
man's third state of a nation's development, spiritual flowering, 
is still as far in the future, apparently, in America as it was in his 
day. In place of a population of " identified souls" we are a nation 
of "organization men." Greed, conformity, intellectual timidity, 
dullness of conscience, venality, corruption — indeed all the evils 
of the Grant era that Whitman fulminated against in Demo- 
cratic Vistas are present to an exaggerated degree. As for Russia, 
materialism is even more rampant there than in the United 
States, the official doctrine being that tractors, dynamos, and 
sewer pipes are all that are needed to create the terrestrial para- 
dise. Conformity is of course enforced by law and the security 
police, and political corruption takes the form of a life-and-death 
struggle for power in which the victor exterminates his rivals. 

The great indigenous national literatures that Dostoyevsky 
and Whitman hoped for, and which existed in both countries 



162 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

briefly during and right after their times, are conspicuously 
absent from the national scenes. America since the ninteen- 
thirties has lapsed back into an aping of Europe. Serious atten- 
tion is given to such nebulous nothingnesses as existentialism, a 
philosophy that no one has thus far been able to define in- 
telligibly, mainly because it is without substance. In literature 
the pretentious obscurities of Joyce, James, and Pound — 
Europeans or Europeanized Americans (the most ultra of Euro- 
peans) — provide the models for our so-called serious literature. 
On a popular level we have on television, in the movies, and in 
the drugstore paperbacks an incredible flow of sex, sadism, and 
other forms of sensationalism interspersed with hypocritical and 
self-conscious lip service to the morality that every true Ameri- 
can, regardless of his insatiable lust for televised murders and 
sexual aberration, supposedly lives by. The intelligentsia, as 
represented by the writers and artists, seems even more segre- 
gated than ever, having withdrawn behind the iron curtain of 
unintelligibility and, like James and Pound, orienting them- 
selves toward Europe rather than their native soil. Art for art's 
sake, or for Freud's sake, or Aristotle's, Marx's, or Sartre's sake 
is the rule of the day. Art for the people's sake is extinct; and if 
it were not, it would find no publisher or patron. The great 
audiences that Whitman dreamed of for his great poet-priests 
have failed to be born either among the intellectuals or the 
people. 

As for the Soviet Union, one need not dwell upon the decline 
of literature under censor-enforced conformity. Yet degraded as 
Soviet literature is as art, it is scarcely so degraded in theme as 
the pollutions offered to the American populace. Heroes of 
labor and the Red Army who give their lives to what the 
Russians conceive of as the service of humanity, are an improve- 
ment, however wooden and sheeplike they may be, over the 
homicidal cowboys, drug-crazed gangsters, and nymphomaniac 



Conclusion 163 

hoydens of the American movie and TV screens and of pulp 
pornography that proudly advertises itself as "making Peyton 
Place read like a book of hymns." If, as Whitman thought, the 
literature of a nation is to present in outline the blueprint of 
the national character, then we can only pray that American 
literature of the 'forties and 'fifties will prove one of the great 
failures of all time. With our American authors the degradation 
of the human being seems to be the chief aim. In Russia the 
stunting of him, without actual moral turpitude, has become 
the function of officially approved literature. In neither case 
does man appear as a recognizable image of God endowed with 
freedom to choose between good and evil, for whatever "phi- 
losophy" there is in the literature of each country — on any level 
of sophistication — is essentially a determinism that strips the 
individual of control over his own life and actions and has re- 
placed free will with psychological complexes, economic forces, 
and glandular secretions. Whether one murders one's father is 
no longer a matter of choice; patricide will be decided sub- 
consciously by our psyche, our environment, and our bio- 
chemistry. The intake of vitamin B in proper quantities is thus 
much more important in determining our conduct than is the 
reading of Scripture. 

Yet there are intermittent signs, in the United States at least, 
that the people are not altogether satisfied with their diminish- 
ment to the status of animals. Some of these signs are perversions, 
like the rebelliousness of Dostoyevsky's Underground Man 
against enforced happiness. One such perversion is the so-called 
"beat generation" attitude, one spokesman for which excused 
gang killings ("for kicks") as expressions of free will in a society 
where most decisions had been removed from the responsibility 
of the individual. The murderers, this apologist writes, are 
asserting their own humanity as self-determining beings. They 
scorn the attempts of society to maintain them as "millions 



164 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

of happy babes" in palatial schools and luxurious housing proj- 
ects, because the price they pay for these advantages is their 
most vital human privilege, that of making their own choices as 
to how they want to live and what they want to do. To some 
extent this theory is correct. It is amply clear by now that slum 
clearance and new school buildings are no more the answer to 
the crime problem than was prohibition to the problem of 
drinking. One cannot legislate contentment any more than one 
can legislate morality. Yet in order to assert their free wills the 
"beatniks" need not so invariably make the wrong choices. 
Murder is a poor way to express one's humanity. An irony is 
that these devotees of excess, from sex and alcohol to morphine 
and homicide, have adopted Whitman as one of their patron 
saints. It would be difficult to think of any other author who 
would be more repelled by the sterile obscenities both of their 
habits of life and of the pseudoliterature that has arisen like a 
fungus on the movement. However, few take the beatniks 
seriously, and their only significance is that they exhibit the 
continued vitality, however perverted, of the human will in an 
era when man is generally regarded as an automaton. 

There are, however, indications of a more wholesome re- 
awakening of mankind, in the West at least, to its position as 
something other than a soulless mechanism. Current literature, 
to be sure, either is so esoteric as to be meaningful only to a 
small coterie of academic esthetes or is so prurient in content 
that its intellectual and spiritual impacts are nil. Yet among 
the paperbacks many older philosophical and literary works 
have been reprinted to sell at prices within the reach of all, 
and these volumes are selling well. In the main, these are books 
that uphold the status of man as a spiritual as well as a material 
being. Many are mystical or theological works, studies in the 
wondrous possibilities of man's life in relation to God and to 
other men. Among them are books by and about Dostoyevsky 



Conclusion 165 

and Whitman, both of whose points of view are the subjects 
of renewed and keen interest in a world in which 

Things are in the saddle 
And ride mankind. 

Akin to the renewal of interest in the older humanistic work 
is the phenomenal success outside Russia of Boris Pasternak's 
Dr. Zhivago. The record-breaking sales of this book in the 
United States, for example, cannot be attributed entirely to the 
appeal of Pasternak's condemnation of communism. We suspect 
that many, if not a majority, of the hundreds of thousands of 
readers of Dr. Zhivago derived from the novel a deepened re- 
spect for the human species rather than a sharpened hatred of 
Russia. Further, the millions who didn't read the book itself did 
read comments on it and excerpts from it in the daily and period- 
ica] press, and these comments and quotations were not by any 
means elucidative only of the anticommunist aspects of the book. 
Most of the articles tended to prepare the reader for a great work 
of literature rather than a great work of propaganda. Thus Time 
congratulated Pasternak on leading Russian literature back to 
the themes that had once made it the admiration of the world — 
the themes of death and resurrection — and pointed out the 
irony that the most Christian novel of our generation had been 
written by a Jewish citizen of an officially atheistic country. The 
New Yorker published a brilliant and lengthy review by Ed- 
mund Wilson, who placed the novel among the greatest of all 
time and pointed out that it had as much to say to materialistic, 
organization-minded Americans as to the robots of the Soviet 
proletariat. Even more eloquent was Miss Dorothy Thompson's 
thoughtful article, ''The Russian Poet Prophets," in The Ladies 
Home Journal, in which the author points out the parallels be- 
tween Dr. Zhivago and the works of Dostoyevsky. Some of Miss 
Thompson's remarks are well worth repeating. 



166 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

Dr. Zhivago is a rejection of the wholesale sociopolitical organiza- 
tion of man, including his very soul It is a rejection of the concept 

that man and society can be creatively transformed by any ideol- 
ogy . . . except [by] man's inner transformation, through faith, 
friendship, mutual aid, and love, in a true organic community im- 
bued with grace. . . . Pasternak believes this transformation will 
take place. . . . Pasternak, like all the greatest Russian writers 
[italics Miss Thompson's], comes by way of doubt and skepticism to 
what T. S. Eliot has called "the idea of a Christian society" — not a 
Christian society measured by church attendance and adherence to 
formal dogma or ritual. "Salvation lies not in loyalty to forms but 
in throwing them off." It is loyalty to the spirit which redeems. The 
greatest transformer of man and society, acknowledged by Pasternak, 
was born in Galilee and brought the world the most liberating con- 
cept ever enunciated, that man, though sinful, can through peni- 
tence win forgiveness and redemption, and through love achieve 
harmony and peace 

Quoting Father Zossima, Miss Thompson continues: 

"To create the world afresh man must turn into another path psycho- 
logically. Until you have become really, in actual fact, a brother to 
everyone, brotherhood will never come to pass. No sort of scientific 
teaching, no kind of common interest, will ever persuade man to 
share property and privilege with equal consideration for all." . . . 
[Dostoyevsky] saw no essential difference between the fatal material- 
istic spirit of the liberal-captalist drive for self-enrichment and the 
fatal materialism of communism. . . . But Dostoyevsky, too, had 
faith, the faith that Pasternak shares. The older Russian believed 
with passion that the guiding force that eventually will lead man 
to renewal and reconstruction would be his return to God through 
the teachings of Christ, and the acceptance as a grace, of the moral 
burden He has imposed on society. 1 

The significance of articles like Miss Thompson's is that 
they were printed in popular periodicals, where they were read 
by millions. The scholarly journals have long been aware of the 



Conclusion 167 

spiritual atrophy of the century, even though they have contri- 
buted much to that atrophy by their mandarin exclusiveness. On 
a popular level Dr. Zhivago has accomplished a minor break- 
through of concepts once widespread but in recent generations 
increasingly alien to the Western outlook. Pasternak in his 
magnificent novel is indeed restating the messages of Dostoyevsky 
and Whitman and of most great writers before them. He is 
reasserting the supremacy of the soul over its body and its en- 
vironment. He is reasserting the immortality of man. 



BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTE 

The texts used in this work have been chosen for their avail- 
ability as well as their accuracy. Thus wherever possible the 
highly reliable Modern Library edition of Leaves of Grass and 
Selected Prose of Whitman, which is available for under a dollar 
in any bookstore, has been used in place of editions obtainable 
only in the larger libraries. For Dostoyevsky standard trans- 
lations, especially those of Constance Garnett, have been given 
as references. In many cases, especially in the quotations from 
The Brothers Karamazov, I have made slight changes in the 
translation where a shade of meaning or an emphasis seems to 
have been lost. I have consulted most of the literature on 
Dostoyevsky and Whitman in preparing this volume, and the 
influence of all of it is undoubtedly discernible. None of these 
works have been cited in the footnotes, however, except where I 
have quoted directly. I have confined the footnotes to the func- 
tion of identifying longer quotations; a documentation of every 
idea I introduce would have made for a foolishly cumbrous 
apparatus. 

In the process of fitting many detailed and sometimes wordy 
prose quotations into my text, economy and a regard for sense 
have dictated considerable abridgment and, rarely, an adjust- 
ment in punctuation. Omissions of any consequence I have 
marked by ellipses; obviously trivial ones I have left unmarked 
so as not to clutter my pages. 



NOTES 



CHAPTER I 

1. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America. New York, Vintage 

Books, 1954, I, 452. 

2. Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass and Selected Prose, edited by John 

Kouwenhoven. New York, Modern Library, Random House, 1950, 
pp. 247-248. 

3. F. M. Dostoyevsky, Winter Notes on Summer Impressions. New York, 

Criterion Books, 1955, p. 95. 

4. F. M. Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, translated by Constance 

Garnett. New York, Modern Library, Random House, p. 375. 

5. A. Pushkin, The Poems, Plays, and Prose, edited by A. Yarmolinsky. 

New York, Modern Library, Random House, 1936, pp. 61-62. 

6. Leaves of Grass, p. 60. 

7. G. W. Allen, The Solitary Singer. New York, The Macmillan Com- 

pany, 1955, p. 517. 

8. Walt Whitman, The Wound-Dresser; Complete Writings, Prose 

Works. New York, Henry W. Knight, 1902, IV, 193-198. 

9. Ibid.,p. 193. 

CHAPTER II 

1. Leaves of Grass, p. 74. 

2. The Brothers Karamazov, p. 127. 

3. Leaves of Grass, p. 103. 

4. Ibid., pp. 132-133. 

5. The Brothers Karamazov, p. 385. 

6. F. M. Dostoyevsky, Raw Youth, translated by Constance Garnett. Lon- 

don, William Heineman, 1916, p. 351. 

7. Leaves of Grass, pp. 48-49. 



170 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

8. Ibid., p. 63. 

9. The Brothers Karamazov, p. 122. 

10. Ibid.,p. 126. 

11. Ibid., p. 61. 

12. Ibid., p. 127. 

13. /fcid., pp. 719-720. 

14. Ibid.,p. 27$. 

15. Ibid., p. 312. 

] 6. Leaves of Grass, p. 39. 

17. Ibid., p. $4. 

18. Ibid., p. 57. 

19. /&«*., p. 38. 

20. /fod.,p.40. 

21. 7fcid.,p.42. 

22. 7fod.,p.59. 

23. J&*U,p.29. 

24. Ibid.,p. SO. 

25. F. M. Dostoyevsky, "Dream of a Strange Man," Diary of a Writer, trans- 

lated by Boris Brasol. New York, George Braziller, 1954, p. 690. 

26. F. M. Dostoyevsky, The Idiot. London, J. M. Dent and Sons, 1914, 

p. 359. 

27. The Brothers Karamazov, pp. 302-303. 

28. Ibid., pp. 305-306. 

29. F. M. Dostoyevsky, New Dostoyevsky Letters, translated by S. S. Koteli- 

ansky. London, the Mandrake Press, 1929, p. 87. 

30. Quoted in V. V. Zenkovsky, A History of Russian Philosophy, trans- 

lated by G. L. Kline. New York, Columbia University Press, 1953, 
p. 423. 

31. The Brothers Karamazov, p. 308. 

32. Walt Whitman, "Freedom," in H. Blodgett, The Best of Whitman. 

New York, The Ronald Press, 1953, p. 388. 

33. Ibid., pp. 388-389. 

34. The Brothers Karamazov, p. 351. 

35. F. M. Dostoyevsky, The Possessed, translated by Constance Garnett. 

New York, Modern Library, Random House, 1936, p. 601. 

36. The Brothers Karamazov, p. 436. 

37. Walt Whitman, Democratic Vistas, in Leaves of Grass and Selected 

Prose, p. 487. 

38. Leaves of Grass, p. 41. 

39. Ibid., p. 27. 

40. The Brothers Karamazov, p. 938. 

41. Ibid.,p.7S. 



Notes 171 

42. Raw Youth, p. 351. 

43. Leaves of Grass, p. 28-29. 

44. Ibid., p. 202. 

45. Quoted in E. J. Simmons, Dostoyevsky: The Making of a Novelist. 

London, John Lehmann, 1950, p. 62. 

46. Leaves of Grass, p. 329. 

47. Ibid., p. 348. 

48. The Idiot, p. 359. 

49. Leaves of Grass, p. 347. 

50. F. M. Dostoyevsky, Memoirs from the House of the Dead. London, 

J. M. Dent and Sons, 191 1, p. 90. 

51. Ibid.,p.73. 

52. Walt Whitman, Specimen Days, in Leaves of Grass and Selected Prose, 

p. 610. 

53. Ibid., p. 60S. 

54. The Wound-Dresser, p. 2 1 1 . 

55. The Brothers Karamazov, p. 387. 

56. Leaves of Grass, p. 72. 

57. Ibid., p. 99. 

58. Ibid., p. 74. 

59. The Brothers Karamazov, p. 348. 

60. Leaves of Grass, p. 92. 

CHAPTER III 

1. Leaves of Grass, p. 43. 

2. Ibid., p. $9. 

3. Ibid., p. 60. 

4. Ibid.,p.$04. 

5. Quoted in The Solitary Singer, p. 249. 

6. The Brothers Karamazov, p. 324. 

7. Ibid., p. 332. 

8. Ibid., p. 758. 

9. Ibid., p. 834. 

10. Ibid.,p.3$4. 

11. /fcid., p. 386. 

12. Raw Youth, p. 328. 

13. Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Complete Works. Boston, Houghton Mif- 

flin Company, 1882, 1, 125. 

14. The Brothers Karamazov, p. 370. 

15. Ibid., pp. 617-619. 

16. Quoted in The Solitary Singer, p. 218. 



172 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

CHAPTER IV 

1. The Brothers Karamazov, p. 80. 

2. Ibid., p. 53. 

3. Ibid., p. 55. 

4. Leaves of Grass, pp. 240-241. 

5. Ibid., p. 265. 

6. The Wound-Dresser, p. 198. 

7. Specimen Days, p. 635. 

8. The Brothers Karamazov, p. 870. 

9. Ibid.,p. 720. 

10. Raw Youth, p. 577. 

11. 77*e Brothers Karamazov, p. 73. 

12. The Idiot, p. 21%. 

13. Leaves of Grass, p. 91. 

14. The Idiot, p. 594. 

15. Dmry o/ a J¥n'ter, p. 787. 

16. Walt Whitman, / Sf£ arzd Loo& Ow^ edited by E. Holloway and V. 

Schwarz. New York, Columbia University Press, 1932, p. 44-45. 

17. Democratic Vistas, p. 476. 

18. Diary of a Writer, p. 983. 

19. Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden. New York, Apple- 

ton-Century-Crafts, Inc., 1908, 1, 10. 

20. Walt Whitman, The Gathering of Forces, edited by C. Rodgers and 

J. Black. New York, G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1920,, II, 212-215. 

21. F. M. Dostoyevsky, "The Dream of a Ridiculous Man," in Great 

Russian Stories. New York, Modern Library, Random House, 1959, 
p. 149. The same story may be found in Diary of a Writer, under the 
title, "The Dream of a Strange Man." 

22. Diary of a Writer, p. 984. 

23. Ibid., pp. 349-350. 

CHAPTER V 

1. Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving. New York, Harper 8c Brothers, 1956, 

p. 54. 

2. The Brothers Karamazov, p. 123. 

3. "The Dream of a Ridiculous Man," p. 148. 

4. Quoted in Avrahm Yarmolinsky, Dostoyevsky: A Life. New York, 

Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1934. p. 138. 

5. Leaves of Grass, p. 81. 

6. Ibid., p. 88. 

7. Ibid., p. 90. 

8. Ibid.,p. 91. 



Notes 173 

9. Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, translated by Constance Garnett. New 
New York, Modern Library, Random House, 1950, p. 120. 

10. J. Philips, New Testament Christianity. New York, The Macmillan 

Company, 1956, p. 65. 

11. Leaves of Grass, p. 27. 

12. The Brothers Karamazov, pp. 382-383. 

13. Leaves of Grass, p. 94. 

14. The Brothers Karamazov, p. 63. 

15. The Wound-Dresser, p. 126. 

16. J. C. Powys, Dostoievsky. London, John Lane The Bodley Head, 1946, 

p. 178. 

17. Leaves of Grass, p. 435. 

18. G. Abraham, Dostoevsky. London, Duckworth, 1936, pp. 40-41. 

19. The Brothers Karamazov, pp. 675-676. 

20. Ibid., p. 939. 

21. Ibid., p. 281. 

22. Ibid.,p.S8S. 

23. Diary of a Writer, pp. 961-962. 

24. Ibid., pp. 978-980. 

25. Leaves of Grass, p. 99. 

26. Ibid., pp. 250-251. 

CHAPTER VI 

1. The Brothers Karamazov, pp. 273-274. 

2. Ibid., p. 677. 

3. Leaves of Grass, p. 217. 

4. The Brothers Karamazov, p. 202. 

5. Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving, p. 76. 

6. Leaves of Grass, p. 70. 

7. The Possessed, p. 603. 

8. Leaves of Grass, p. 81. 

9. The Idiot, p. 378. 

10. Leaves of Grass, p. 330. 

11. Ibid.,p. 326. 

12. "Dream of a Ridiculous Man," pp. 154-155. 

13. Leaves of Grass, p. 322. 

14. The Possessed, p. 715. 

CHAPTER VII 

1. Lev Tolstoy, Voskreceniye. Leningrad, Gosudarstvennoye Izdatelstvo, 

1940, p. 46. 

2. Democratic Vistas, p. 469. 



174 THE GREATNESS OF MAN 

3. Ibid.,pA8h 

4. Ibid.,pA9l. 

5. Ibid., pp. 489-491. 

6. Ibid., pp. 493-495. 

7. Ibid.,pA7S. 

8. Ibid.,pA77. 

9. "Preface," Leaves of Grass, p. 444. 

10. Gathering of Forces, I, 194. 

11. Ibid., p. 192. 

12. /fo'^p. 193. 

13. Nathaniel Hawthorne. 77*e Blithedale Romance, in 77*<? Complete 

Works. Boston, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1883, V, 433. 

14. The Brothers Karamazov, p. 24. 

15. Ibid., p. 19. 

16. Ibid.,p.2%\ 

17. Ibid.,p. 17. 

18. Ibid., p. 20. 

19. Democratic Vistas, p. 495. 

20. Zfcid., p. 491. 

21 . Diary of a Writer, p. 976. 

22. The Brothers Karamazov, p. 377. 

23. Ibid., p. 377. 

24. 77*e Possessed, pp. 35-36. 

CHAPTER VIII 

1. J7a/f Whitman of the New York Aurora: Editor at Twenty-Two, edited 

by J. J. Rubin and C. H. Brown. State College, Pennsylvania, 1950, 
pp. 99-100. 

2. I Sit and Look Out, p. 43. 

3. Quoted in The Solitary Singer, p. 370. 

4. Diary of a Writer, pp. 6-7. 

5. Raw Youth, p. 53. 

6. Diary of a Writer, p. 790. 

7. Winter Notes on Summer Impressions, p. 1 14. 

8. Ibid., pp. 112-113. 

9. Diary of a Writer, p. 1036. 

10. The Brothers Karamazov, pp. 350-351. 

11. Ibid., p. 377. 

12. Democratic Vistas, p. 475. 

13. Ibid.,pASl. 

14. Ibid.,pA75. 

15. 76*U,p.467. 






Notes 175 

16. The Possessed, p. 589. 

17. Ibid., p. SI. 

18. The Brothers Karamazov, p. 274. 

19. Democratic Vistas, p. 471. 

20. The Brothers Karamazov, p. 363. 

21. Ibid.,p.S76. 

22. Winter Notes on Summer Impressions, p. 1 1 1. 

23. "Preface," Leaves of Grass, p. 454. 

24. Democratic Vistas, pp. 471-477. 

25. Ibid., pp. 473-474. 

26. Dmr)> o/ a Writer, pp. 784-785. 

27. i?aw; yow^, p. 465. 

28. Leaves of Grass, p. 357. 

29. /feid., pp. 355-356. 

30. Democratic Vistas, p. 495. 

31. The Possessed, pp. 253-256. 

32. A Gathering of Forces, I, 247. 

33. Ibid., p. 23. 

34. Democratic Vistas, p. 461. 

35. Zfeid., p. 469. 

36. The Possessed, p. 674. 

CHAPTER IX 

1. Dorothy Thompson, "The Russian Poet-Prophets," Ladies Home 
Journal, Volume 76 (March, 1959), pp. llff. 





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